Core Keeper is well on its way to being Steam’s next unexpected breakout hit. Drawing clear inspiration from a suite of indie darlings that have come before – like Valheim, Terraria, and Stardew Valley – Core Keeper is already racking up sales numbers that belie its humble origins, potentially paving its road towards becoming Steam’s latest surprise phenomenon.
Launched into early access on March 8, Core Keeper bills itself as a “mining sandbox adventure.” That’s a pretty good place to start, following directly in the footsteps of arguably the best-selling indie game of all time, Minecraft. Putting those lofty, three-dimensional heights aside, however, Core Keeper sits a little closer to another mining sandbox, Terraria.
While a top-down viewpoint and some impressively-detailed pixel art does set Core Keeper apart from Re-Logic’s hit, the influence is clear. Players are tasked with exploring dimly lit caverns far below the ground, balancing natural phosphorescence and their own light sources to keep the way ahead clear, all while mining blocky, 2D resources to either carve a new path or establish a home for themselves.
And when it comes to building that home base, Core Keeper borrows from another beloved indie game. The top-down perspective that differentiates it from Terraria apes the charming Stardew Valley, especially when you add in farming, fishing, and trips through a treacherous mine. The pixel-art dungeon-crawling outlined in the trailer is immediately reminiscent of Stardew’s mines, but it’s also drawing comparisons to a very different kind of game – Diablo. While Blizzard’s demonic ARPG offers a very different vibe to much of Core Keeper, the gigantic spider-grub that appears at the start of its trailer does seem like something classic Diablo might have cooked up.
The hits keep coming
There’s some real pedigree within Core Keeper’s design, whether that’s the inspiration drawn from games made by a single developer or the vibes captured from one of the biggest studios in the world. But with Core Keeper surpassing 500,000 sales in its first two weeks, and any number of smash-hit-inspired indies not getting anywhere near to that level of success, what sets developer Pugstorm apart?
One of the most telling answers to that question might be the game’s multiplayer offering. Looking back over some of the biggest breakout hits of the past couple of years, and larger, semi-cooperative groups are a key theme; Valheim, which capped servers at 10 players, sold 8 million copies in early access in just six months; Among Us, which peaked at more than 440,000 concurrents on Steam alone, also allowed up to 10 people to play together; Fall Guys lobbies were capped at four players, but its gameplay wasn’t purely antagonistic, and it shot to becoming the most-downloaded PS Plus game in history.
Granted, global events made the past couple of years a particularly good moment for approachable multiplayer gaming, which is perhaps why Core Keeper isn’t chasing even bigger sales numbers, but its approach to multiplayer still bodes well – why sell to just one or two players when you could encourage an entire group of friends to play together at once?
Whether Core Keeper maintains its impressive early momentum remains to be seen, but the start that it’s already made is enviable, with player counts putting it in touching distance of Terraria and just ahead of Stardew Valley, knocking on the door of Steam’s top 20. Just a couple of weeks into an early access window expected to last for much of the rest of 2022, a few well-received updates could turn this into the latest in Steam’s string of unexpected breakouts.