By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
With a name like Graveyard Keeper it would be understandable if images of some sort of gothic horror game popped into your head. What the folks over at Lazy Bear Games delivered however comes across more as Stardew Valley meets The Addams Family. And it’s glorious.
After a terrible accident, your character arrives in a strange land, by way of a mysterious red-eyed stranger who he meets in a mist filled limbo. He’s instructed to go and dig up a guy named Gerry. It just so happens that Gerry is nothing more than a talking skull with a penchant for booze. Gerry is just the first of a long list of zany characters you’ll meet in your (mis?)adventures in this strange land.
Quite the motley crew.
As I said, at its core, Graveyard Keeper has a lot of Stardew Valley in it, and mostly plays like any other Harvest Moon clone. You have an energy bar that you use to plant crops, chop trees, break down rocks and boulders, build structures and a variety of other tasks. Each task, in theory, promotes you towards being able to do other things, whether it’s buy more seeds to plant new crops (via selling crops for money) or get new tools. The core gameplay really is the plant, water, harvest, sell, buy seeds, repeat cycle.
In Graveyard Keeper though it goes one step beyond. Periodically you’ll receive deliveries of corpses from a surly communist donkey. As the Graveyard Keeper, it’s up to you to prepare these corpses for burial, carry them to the graveyard, bury them, and decorate the grave. As you decorate the graves, your graveyard gains a sort of prestige status. This will make the local Bishop happy. Making NPCs happy is one of the other core tenets of the game and will open up additional options for gameplay. Keeping the donkey happy, for example, will ensure he keeps you knee deep in fresh corpses. Not keeping him happy will result in… other things.
This jackass is full of shit.
NPCs also give you a variety of quests and tasks. Some may want you to grow crops, others will want pieces from corpses, and some might want you to bring them a forged stamp so that they can sell your meat as officially approved meat by the local government. I mean, he doesn’t even stop to ask what sort of meat you, a graveyard keeper, might be bringing him. He’s a solid guy, that tavern keeper.
Back to the bishop. Once you get your graveyard cleaned up, you also get promoted to Prior of the local church. This allows you a couple benefits. One is access to the study below the church. This is where you can study various objects you find in order to further your knowledge of the world around you. This knowledge allows you to advance the technology tree and unlock new techniques, new buildings, new tools, et cetera.
The other major benefit of unlocking the church is actually performing sermons. Each week on a particular day (the days have shapes rather than names) you can perform a service for the local townsfolk. This service gains you faith points, as well as a few coins. Depending on what type of service you perform, it might also garner you a buff of some sort.
George Michael would approve
I will say that Graveyard Keeper might not be for everyone. It requires a deep appreciation of gallows humor and the ability to enjoy the macabre, even when it borders on cringeworthy. The hamburgers you sell to the tavern keeper aren’t cow. To be honest, I’ve never been able to bring myself to eat one. Despite that I’ve been able to enjoy the game immensely.
The sounds in the game are well placed, and some of the graphics details are more than a little impressive. The footprints you leave as you walk down the road, and the way the leaves shift in the wind really pull you into the game, even though it’s a 2D top down view.
This is that Burning Man thing I’ve been hearing so much about?
If dark humor is your thing, and you’ve found enjoyment in Harvest Moon clones in the past, you’re almost certain to find enjoyment in Graveyard Keeper. It is a bit grindy, as are most HM clones, and it does feel like perhaps there could be a bit more content. There’s pretty strong hints that such will come as DLC, which is greatly disappointing, but all the same, for the 20 dollar price-point, Graveyard Keeper is a great game to spend 40-50 hours on.
Final Rating: Good (3.5/5)
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.