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Mining seems to be a bit of a thing amongst indie games at the moment, with Minecraft literally taking over the world and finding its way into the hands of millions of gamers. We don’t know what it is about plunging deep into the depths of the earth in search of precious minerals that is so compelling and addicting but indie developer Power of Two’s debut game Dwarfs!? aims to capture this valuable element. While Dwarfs!? and Minecraft both feature mining and might seem similar, Dwarfs!? could not be more different.It is actually more of a mix between Dwarf Fortress and Lemmings.
In Dwarfs!? you take the role of the Overseer and it's your job to manage an ever growing population of dwarves as they mine away at the earth. You start out with control of a single base structure which will periodically spawn your miners, who then roam around the map and start mining away automatically. You control them by placing arrows on the floor of your mine and should the miner step on the arrow they walk in the direction until they hit another arrow or something they can mine through. While this mindless approach to mining might give the impression that your dwarves are brainless, they are actually able to deduce that if they find one spot chocked full of precious minerals, its likely that nearby squares share that property.
A key part of Dwarfs!? is the caves that fill each randomly-generated level; these caves can have a variety of properties that might have you scrambling to run damage control on your subterranean empire. There are good caves and then there are bad caves. Good caves tend to contain treasure while Bad caves tend to be filled with water, lava or monsters. Should lava or water be contained within the cave, it’s your job as the Overseer to prevent it from flooding your mine. This can be done with either Walls or Pits. Walls will stop whatever fluid threatens to flood your empire but Pits can divert the flow of lava or water into the earth, this makes them especially useful when you bring in the fact that Lava will eventually burn through any Walls you put up. While the threat of having your mine flooded is never a good thing, it’s actually surprisingly exciting to watch lava or water build up and flood your base.
The last thing that caves can contain is Monsters, and there are two key types of monster. The first are the smaller creatures which will run amok in your mine and begin killing off your miners. The second are the bigger boss monsters who will spawn smaller foes and grow more powerful over time.
In order to defend your dwarves from the various monsters, you have to train guards who will wander around your mine and slay any enemies they come across, much like miners these can also be directly controlled and can mine if required, but you gain no income from it. You can also build outposts which can train up their own unit of warriors who can be fired via cannon directly at the enemy. As you dig further and further, the monsters become stronger, and to match that your warriors level up to become more powerful as well. Sadly there’s no real customization to be had when they level up, they simply do more damage.
While the pick-up-and-play nature of Dwarfs!? makes the mining and management gameplay fun, it also limits the amount of depth (no pun intended) that the gameplay has. To balance this out, Power of Two have included a slew of bonus modes which add much value to Dwarfs!?.
First up are the challenge maps which give you five or so levels with special conditions in them such as playing at 500% speed and for each of these challenge maps there is a set of victory goals. There’s also the endless mode, the sandbox mode (which acts a bit like a level editor), dark mode (in which you can’t see the location of caves and mineral deposits) and a base defend mode which turns Dwarfs!? into a tower defense game where you use your miners to create a maze and then build towers to defend it. All these modes add way more value to Dwarfs!? and make up for the game’s lack of depth.
While Dwarfs!? is unlikely to become the perfect indie storm that Minecraft is, it does nail that same addictive nature of virtual mining, and for the price tag of ten bucks it’s worth buying. If you’re not completely sold on Dwarfs!? I recommend giving the demo a try.