Don’t you just hate those times when you are rushing home one rainy night and suddenly you are sent spinning through time and space to a mysterious medieval graveyard to which you are now indentured? Yeah, that can suck.
This is the primary conceit of Graveyard Keeper, the new management sim from Lazy Bear Games. Actually, despite a curious outset, the game doesn’t mess about with too much backstory. You are now the nameless Graveyard Keeper, who really knows nothing about keeping graves, and simply wants to return to the lost love that they have left behind. How to do this and whether it is even possible is the main story thread that carries you through the game.
There is a colourful cast of characters who inhabit The Village each with their own wants, needs and of course endless side quests. Some of these NPCs lean towards the comedic in the form of a talking skull, who has memories that may be of use to you but only if you can ply him with enough booze, and a communist donkey who brings you bodies to bury. A donkey, I might add, who can not only talk but knows how to blackmail your capitalist ass once you start making some serious coin. Seize the means of the carrot production, comrades!
That’s the great delight of Graveyard Keeper. Not only do you have an ancient graveyard to maintain and a never-ending supply of bodies to butcher, but you also have a Church to run, crops to farm, a multitude of items to mine and craft, alchemy to discover, fishing, beekeeping, winemaking, brewing, dungeoneering… the list of activities is immense. All will bring you money and experience which help you progress but it can be a struggle to try and decide which daily tasks to work on especially given your limited energy supply. There’s just so much to do!
one of the benefits of doing ALL the jobs in the village means that no-one ever questions where the Graveyard Keeper is getting his MEAT supply
Progression is managed through a similar system to Lazy Bear’s previous title, Punch Club. Doing certain activities will release little XP tokens depending on whether you are using your strength, nature or magic/smarts. You can spend these tokens to open skill trees that will give you even more abilities and skilled roles such as Journalist or Surgeon. Seriously, the Keeper does everything in this town. More abilities also means more items to craft and more ways to unlock areas of the map and reveal the game’s mysteries.
The comparisons to the magnificent Stardew Valley will be unavoidable. Graphically and in play style, it is very similar. However, the aesthetics and moral decisions are a touch murkier in this game. Choices can involve whether to secretly sell human flesh to the local bar or provide the ‘cheap meat’ burgers at a BBQ are certainly options that would certainly never crop up in the Valley. (I guess one of the benefits of doing ALL the jobs in the village means that no-one ever questions where the Graveyard Keeper is getting his supply!) The pixel graphics may be similar and the music equally enchanting and upbeat but Stardew Valley this is not. After all, this is a game where you have to decide on a daily basis whether to bury a ‘sinful’ (read: stinky) corpse and lower your graveyard rating, burn it at a cost to yourself or, y’know, just chuck it in the river. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite you later.
Graveyard Keeper manages to stand tall among the other management sims and even offers a pretty solid challenge to the mighty Stardew Valley itself. It offers a thoroughly engaging playing experience with lots of that ‘just one more day/turn’ charm. I have lost hours upon hours into this world trying to unpick its mysteries. If you love management sims and pixel art you will not be disappointed. It really is enthralling. Just don’t eat the burgers.
Be warned, though. This game will throw you in at the deep end. In the cutthroat world of ultra-dimensional Graveyard Management it is sink or swim and you will have to quite literally forge your own path. Graveyard Keeper is not a game to really hold your hand. Which is good because you have literally no idea where that hand has been. And knowing this game, it’s probably somewhere pretty unpleasant.