Review: Bore Blasters

8 Mar 2024

These days, there’s no shortage of roguelikes and roguelites to sink your teeth into. Because of that, it’s not much of an ask to find a game in this genre you’ll find that you vibe with the most. Some people prefer long runs in the vein of Rogue Legacy and its ilk. Others might find that they like the concept of the genre, but would much rather not spend a significant amount of time to finish one single run.

I find myself gravitating more towards the latter. The former’s gameplay loop isn’t anything that’s generally off-putting, it’s more that I prefer my roguelikes to be more “do a quick run now and maybe do another one later.” Games like Turnip Boy Robs a Bank are great examples of a bite-sized gameplay loop, as you can hop in and out at your leisure, and it is very pick-up-and-play in nature.

Bore Blasters takes the pick-up-and-play cues from games like Turnip Boy, though it’s more Deep Rock mixed with elements from Vampire Survivors more than anything else. The timing is a little weird, as Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor dropped pretty close to this game. Regardless, it’s possible that two dwarf-themed games with similar vibes can coexist and deliver different gameplay experiences.

Developed and published by 8BitSkull, Bore Blasters releases on Steam (Windows/macOS/Linux/Steam Deck) on March 8, 2024. The Windows and Linux versions (the latter played via a Steam Deck) were played for this review.

Down and Down Into The Deep

Right off the bat, the first thing I noticed about this game is that it’s more gameplay-focused than anything else. While there is a story, it’s very light touch and generally told through conversations through radio dialogue. Your various dwarven cohorts are stationed on your steampunk-esque flying ship, and their chatter is pretty straightforward. A lot of it is centered around mining to get a leg-up on their goblin rivals, and some surprises come about as you progress. Though it’s pretty clear here that what’s here is in service to gameplay more than anything else.

The general gameplay loop is pretty tight, and I find that to be a strength. You’re a dwarf piloting a gyrocopter with a machine gun drill, and each stage tasks you with simply making it to the bottom where a giant glowing treasure chest lies. Getting from Point A to Point B isn’t as simple as just shooting straight down, however. You’ll have to contend with the likes of different types of material to shoot your way through as well as the various denizens that inhabit each biome. Materials to bore through range from simple soft dirt, weak ice, regenerating greenery, and other unique biome-specific bits and bobs. There are also secondary goals that have a bit of plot significance, but more often than not the game will task you with holding a position that you’ll be pointed to or shooting down an arbitrary number of things.

You’ll often find yourself trying to find the softer material to get to Point B, but you’ll also be using the gems you mine away at to use run-specific upgrades. True to any game pulling their influence from Vampire Survivors, these “bolt-on” upgrades do prove useful during a run. I found some of these to be more useful than others, but it doesn’t take long for you to find the upgrades that work best for you. If you’re looking to increase your drilling effectiveness, it’s a valid avenue. So is leaning into a more explosive direction or even a mix of the two. While it does lean into its influences a bit, Bore Blasters does just enough to not feel like it was a direct lift from the games they pull influence from in this regard.

Finishing a run will either reward you with new bolt-ons or special perks that can be used for a limited amount of future runs. The end of each run will also give you the chance to use the gems you’ve mined for permanent upgrades as well. This can range from an increased fire rate, better hull integrity, better gem attraction/drop rate, and so on. Progression will eventually unlock more characters on top of the base dwarf. Each dwarf does have a specific special ability to help move your run along, and each of them are effective in a unique way. None of these abilities are ineffective, but which character you use will largely depend on personal playstyle.

Regardless of whether or not you finish the run, you’ll retain the gems you’ve mined. This helps with early runs, as I often found myself pouring my hard-earned gems into these permanent upgrades to make progression a little more palatable. None of these runs are especially long, either. The longest runs usually top off at about ten minutes at most. For those who own a Steam Deck, this is great for on-the-go gaming in short bursts. Nothing’s stopping you from doing multiple runs, and this is something I appreciated about this loop. The devs respected my time enough to not drag on for too long, and getting from start to finish wasn’t always a slog.

While all of these come together pretty nicely, players will also have to contend with a time limit by way of a fuel tank. So you’ll be hard-pressed to do any serious exploring when you have a semi-finite end that can be extended by sparsely placed fuel canisters. I feel two ways about this because it does require you to prioritize where you’re drilling and decide whether or not it’s worth it to go after more treasure for the next bolt-on upgrade. However, it can be a bit too tightly paced for some, even with concessions via the fuel canisters and permanent upgrades.

The total gameplay package and tight gameplay loop lend themselves nicely to that all-important “just one more run” factor that games like these thrive on. I often found myself just saying that very thing, knocking out run after run in succession. There is a bit of an addictive quality to that, and it’s something that I haven’t found myself doing in a game for a while. It scratched my brain in a very specific way, and I’ve discovered that quick runs presented in the way it does here are ideal for my play preferences. Your mileage may vary, but players who enjoy addictive short-burst gameplay loops will find a lot to love here.

Dark Drillin’ and Diggin’

These days, pixel-based graphical presentation is par for the course for many indie developers, and Bore Blasters doesn’t exactly buck that notion very much. However, there is a fair amount of detail crammed into the wide assortment of biomes you encounter throughout your playthrough. While the expected biomes like fire and ice (plus regular old rock and stone) are present, things do veer in a more Lovecraftian-esque direction with a biome or two as well.

General gameplay often has a lot going on with particle effects, enemy behavior, and the frequent occurrence of explosions as well. This is a game that does a lot to keep your attention visually, but not in a way that leans into an angle that feels like parody. Each biome looks and feels the part, though I do kind of wish they leaned into some more fantasy-focused environments on top of what’s already here. I’m not exactly hoping for something along the lines of the Mines of Moira here, but it would have been nice to see them spread their creative wings just a wee bit more.

The audio direction here is unique, to say the least. I didn’t exactly have a mixture of synth-laced music that wouldn’t be out of place on the tracklist of a synthwave album here, but I don’t think that its existence is something that hurts it. Really, it feels like someone said “we’re going to do some synthwave, but for dwarves” and totally ran with it. It doesn’t dominate the entirety of the soundtrack, as it shares some bouncy and driving tracks that mix well with digging holes with bullets. It’s something that fits the vibe, though the decision to do it at all came as a pleasant surprise to me.

While the presentation does clash at times, it’s the kind you don’t really mind because it just works. It’s almost like trying a food that looks funny, but actually tastes pretty good. You might think it’s a bit weird at first, but taking that bite and walking away impressed is probably the best way to describe it. Besides, you’re getting dwarves in gyrocopters. The fact that it’s a little weird, a bit bombastic, and has music that goes well with Diggy Diggy Hole is basically par for the course when you put it all together. It’s absurd, but that’s part of the charm.

Brothers of the Mine, Rejoice!

Roguelikes are having a moment, and the concept lends itself well to studios large and small. Because of that, it takes a lot of effort to stand out in an already shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of these games. Thankfully, Bore Blasters does just enough to stand out on its own despite some contemporaries drawing similar vibes. While I’m no stranger (and love) the vibes that came through via Deep Rock, part of me thinks that the dwarves in that franchise would love to pilot a gyrocopter and throw back a few brews with these dwarves.

I’m loving the bite-sized gameplay that games like Bore Blasters brings to the table. It’s simultaneously a good way to sample what makes roguelikes so appealing to some, while also delivering fast and frantic rock-shattering action that throws away the pickaxe in a uniquely explosive way. This is a pretty solid game that worth giving a shot, if not for the fact that it’s one of the few games that lends itself nicely to portable play. Sure, other roguelikes might have a leg up in comparison. But that shouldn’t stop you from strapping into your gyrocopter and doing some deep dives of your own. If you’re looking for more dwarven shenanigans in your life, this one is worth a look. I’m sure some miners would raise a pickaxe and a beer in agreement.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review code provided by 8BitSkull for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of 8BitSkull.