Though at one stage it was a novelty to see a 2D pixel art platformer, these days they’re ten-a-penny. That’s not to take away from the quality of such games, which are normally excellent experiences. It’s just an observation that we tend to see very similarly styled games an awful lot.

Along with the pixel art style, you’ll often find games proudly describing themselves with several overused terms: roguelite, hardcore, pixel perfect, Metroidvania – to name just a few.

Lost Caves, I’m pleased to say, bucks those trends. Though yes, it’s a 2D platformer, it’s refreshingly unafraid to be a playable, gently challenging time rather than a stress-inducing, randomly generated, one hit kill ragefest that’ll leave most players in a crumpled, frustrated, sobbing heap.

In Lost Caves, you’ll be taking your jauntily animated treasure seeker – Michael Miner – on a hunt for wealth in a series of expansive cave stages. They’re brilliantly designed, with an excellent variety of obstacles and antagonists that’ll keep you on your toes. Unlike most retro-styled platformers, you have an energy bar – which immediately gives the game a much more forgiving feel than you may be used to. The emphasis here is on amassing enough wealth – via collecting coins and various trinkets – to open the way to the next stage, which is an addictive and compelling challenge. The stages are big enough that you may well puzzle yourself over how to reach certain parts for a little while, but not so big that you can’t overcome most of what’s thrown your way (there’s a pleasing pinball-esque feel to some sections too, which is made more explicit by the use of springs to bounce you around to certain points). There’s some interesting gameplay touches such as a directional torch to light the way through darkened areas of the stage too, which is well implemented.

I had an issue with seeing some of the spikier obstacles, which felt a little too much like background scenery to me and didn’t stand out to my eyes; thankfully, lone creator Adam D. Smith thought of that – with an excellent colour blindness mode that adds little spooky pixel ghosts to the obstacles in question, making them far easier for me to avoid with my slightly impaired vision.

Special mention must go to the soundtrack which is absolutely superb; like the rest of the game, it’s clear that a lot of time has been spent on the music to get it feeling just right.

As mentioned in the intro, there’s plenty of 2D indie pixel art platformers out there, but I’ve rarely had as much fun with them as I have had with Lost Caves so far, which is incredibly compelling and addictive – not to mention beautifully, carefully designed in every area. If the punishingly tough, deliberately hardcore platformers that are so in vogue these days are a little too much for your aging reflexes to deal with, Lost Caves may just be the retro-styled collectathon that you’re looking for. Excellent stuff.

Lost Caves is available now on Steam, GameJolt and itch.io. Many thanks to Adam D. Smith for providing me with a game key for review purposes.

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