Bite Sized Reviews: Return From Core

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Bite Sized Reviews: Return From Core

January has been a busy month for me so far. I’ve started a new freelance gig regarding lore editing, and I’ve started remaking my Patreon. It will cover both my work here for, as well as support for my other projects. Once I’ve completed the background work, I’ll reopen it officially. I have some awesome plans in the works for my Patreon, so watch this space. I hope to have it ready in a couple of weeks.

We’re back on the review train! It’s been a while since my last review, and I’ve been playing a lot of games. Today I review Return From Core, an intriguing sandbox RPG that launched last month in Early Access. Big thanks to the developers Tanxun Studio and Keymailer for providing me with a review code. Farming RPGs are a dime a dozen, and while Return From Core has some teething troubles, I’m having fun so far. This is a very early impression of my time in the game thus far, so everything here is subject to change as I progress.

The English localization is the biggest sticking point right now. Being a native Chinese developer, English not being their first language is a major challenge, and unfortunately, the current translation is a mixed bag. Return From Core starts off with a fairly chunky tutorial, and the in-game guides are extensive. While the English translation does a reasonable job of helping me understand what to do, it falls off in several places. For example, edible items in the inventory are described as ‘Editable’, and the translated parts can cut off parts of the interface. Many Chinese games don’t have any English translation at all, however, especially ones in Early Access, so I give the developers credit for including it at launch, even when it is a struggle. I hope the developers get official translations into the game.

That’s enough rambling about the language — what is Return From Core like to play? It blends together several popular game genres — crafting, dungeon crawling, automation with factory building, farming and simple story design. The premise is simple enough — you play as a boy lost in the underground and come across pretty girls who help you find your way back home. The story and dialogue are nothing to write home about, but it helps sell the gameplay.

It reminds me of Core Keeper and Stardew Valley, and Return From Core thankfully allows the player to save anytime after the tutorial is complete. I’ve been vocal on here about farming sims not allowing saves until the end of a given day. The mechanic itself is fine, I would just rather have control over when I can save progression. The usual survival and crafting mechanics are here — dig into the world for resources, farm crops for food, with health and hunger bars to manage. It strikes a generous balance between players having to prepare to survive, but not having to micromanage hunger every five minutes.

What surprised me was how solid combat feels. I never expected to enjoy whacking enemies with a measly pickaxe, but movement is solid and enemies are varied enough to make exploration enjoyable. All these different systems mesh together into something that has real potential. Return from Core boasts both content and a satisfying gameplay loop.

Unfortunately, my time in the game has been hampered somewhat by bugs. None of these is directly game breaking, but enough to be annoying. A few times, I loaded into my save and found my inventory glitched — I could not move anything to and from it. Returning to the main menu and reloading the save seems to fix this. I also ran into a strange audio bug where my character constantly played the walking audio, even when I wasn’t moving at all. Again, nothing game breaking, but combined with rough text translations, it can make a messy impression. In terms of performance, it runs well enough on even modest hardware, and a couple of great community controller profiles make Return From Core a decent experience on handheld PCs. Full controller support will help, and I want to see more customization in settings. It’s all a big barebones on that front.

While Return From Core has rough edges, great ideas are brewing in this gritty, underground digging sim. The amount of content for the Early Access price (£14/16EUR/20USD) is substantial, and it mixes the different mechanics well. The bugs I experienced are annoying, but right now the main issue is the English translation: the elephant in the cave.

There’s a solid roadmap for the game throughout 2024, so I’m interested in how it develops through the coming months. If you don’t mind some jank, and are interested in supporting a promising indie title, pick up the game and try it out. If the rough translations put you off, I recommend waiting for some updates.

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TheThousandScarAuthor/Blogger/Cartographer/Streamer/Narrative Game Writer/I play far too many games. |

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