Switch version tested
Review code provided
After a successful outing on PC and Xbox, Graveyard Keeper makes it’s a long-awaited move to the Nintendo Switch. But how does this skulduggery filled romp through the middle ages fare on our favourite handheld? Let’s take a look.
You may be a king or a little street sweeper but sooner or later you dance with the reaper.
And when that day comes let’s hope you don’t end up in this Graveyard! Taking the role of an unfortunate soul with an exceptional beard you awaken from an accident to find yourself in a medieval land and tasked with being The Graveyard Keeper, this life sim (or death sim) RPG sees you aiming to restore this decrepit graveyard to former glory with addictive and morbidly charming freedom once things get going with the overall aim of returning to your own world.
Starting things off you are greeted by a talking skull with amnesia and a taste for alcohol who offers guidance throughout your quest. First priority will be increasing the quality of the run down graveyard. After fixing things up a bit you will start to receive bodies from a chatty donkey who thankfully isn’t voiced by Eddie Murphy.
It’s down to you to perform autopsies and determine the quality of the body and dispose of appropriately, I mean, you wouldn’t want a low-quality corpse in your graveyard, would you? Each body has a quality rating determined by red and green skulls, ideally, you will want as many green skulls as you can get and like most things in Graveyard Keeper, it takes a bit of trial and error to find the balance in the early going.
The better quality the bodies, graves and upkeep, the higher rating your graveyard will get, once it reaches a certain level you will be able to open the church and start delivering sermons to the townsfolk which again, in turn, will reward you with faith which you can use for research.
If you decide to plunder a body for everything it’s worth such as flesh for making paper and armour, blood for sacrifices, skulls for decoration etc and don’t want that retched carcass in your plot, then you can always learn to perform cremations and burn it to ash and salt (handy for seasoning your chips) or just dump it in the river….no one would know….would they?
Get busy living or get busy dying.
On top of the day to day of graveyard upkeep you can develop your generous skill tree set while performing tasks such as farming, harvesting, mining, fishing and dungeon crawling. Everything you do in Graveyard Keeper, whether it’s agriculture, science, crafting, organ harvesting and so on will earn you certain points which can be used to upgrade your abilities. Everything from better surgeon skills, a wider range of crafting techniques, prayer writing and cooking recipes will be available as the game progresses.
Along the way, you will meet a wide range of townsfolk, unlike most life sim games that are full of happy go lucky characters to meet, just about everyone in Graveyard Keeper is a miserable git with their own cynical outlook on things. However, get to know them and perform a few task’s and friendships with benefits will open up. New activities and development options unfold at a generous rate and most tasks are well designed to ensure they all benefit multiple aspects of the gameplay. Unlocking bug and moth harvesting will aid you in completing a task for someone who will teach you to fish which in turn will help you complete task’s for a couple of other NPC’s and so on.
Graveyard Keeper makes no bones about keeping you busy by providing multiple undertaking’s to keep you occupied. Although there are moments where you may feel a certain grind coming on or even overwhelmed with having so many tasks, this is offset by the fact that everything you do is contributing towards something else. Meeting the requirements for learning more about gardening will ensure you have a good supply of cooking ingredients which also provide bugs that can be used for fishing and alchemy. You can even embrace your inner necromancer by recruiting Zombies to take care of some of the more menial tasks while you focus on key activities if you wish to purchase the “Breaking Dead” DLC pack.
As you only have a certain amount of energy before you have to rest, prioritising tasks will be essential as will the abilities you choose to unlock first. Opting to learn some cooking and harvesting skills will enable you to create some stamina regen meals so you can venture further and work for longer.
Luckily the only task that has any form of a time limit is dealing with dead bodies which start to decompose as soon as they are delivered. But if you want to focus on harvesting minerals or developing your farm you are free to do so without the concern of failing something else. Some NPC’s can only be spoken to on certain days of the week so make sure you keep an eye on what day it is if you need to complete a task with a certain individual to progress, otherwise you will need to wait another week to see them.
The devil in the details.
Once things start coming together there is much to enjoy about Graveyard Keeper and it will draw you in and keep you hooked for hours. That is of course, once it comes together. There are many elements to get to grips with and they are not always entirely clear. Although descriptions on tasks and details in the skill tree will point you in the right direction there is undoubtedly an element of head-scratching when you first start which may put a few people off. The inevitable grind moments will also set in from time to time as is expected with this genre and players either accept this or they won’t, it just depends on if you like this style of game. Personally it didn’t bother me here as I mentioned earlier, everything is always leading towards some form of achievement, wood and ore are generally the most used resources so having to constantly harvest them may sound like a chore but the pay off when you finally get to open up a mine or fix a bridge to access new areas is worth the leg work.
Performance wise there is little to complain about. The retro graphics are detailed and colourful in both docked and handheld mode with surprising amounts of graphical detail and animations at times. Loading is quick, the input is responsive and all-in-all feels like it was made for the Switch. Only minor gripes are on occasion text boxes can overlap in handheld, for example, completing a task will see the task box appear and cut off the corner of the character dialogue box which was slightly irritating. Later in the game I found managing my storage boxes to be a bit buggy as I couldn’t scroll back up after going to the bottom of my inventory which again was hit and miss but irritating hopefully this can be sorted with a simple patch, plus I felt like not adding touch screen support was a missed opportunity here.
Music and sound are fantastic, I absolutely loved the music score that is varied and well suited to the medieval setting. Different areas have their own tunes, each character, although not voiced as such, make amusing garble noises as they speak and are each distinctive and carry a level of personality with them, even the Donkey!
Graveyard Keeper is a must have for Switch fan’s, there is no doubt about it. Developers Lazy Bear Games have taken a tried and tested genre formula and given it some fresh life, or afterlife in this case. As full of charm as it is morbid humour, there are hours of fun to be had and the grind elements are less of an issue on Switch as you can pick it up on your lunch break and chip away in small sessions or just run the battery flat in a hardcore session. The only caveat is to enjoy this title to its full potential it will take a bit of effort in the early going to get to grips with certain things. Luckily with Graveyard Keeper having such a large following on Steam and Xbox, there are some handy starter guides available if you really struggle but I would recommend getting stuck in and attempt to reap the rewards the old fashioned way first. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to digging holes and taking souls.
TBG Score: 8.5 /10
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 26/06/2019
No. of Players: 1
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Download link: eShop