To The Core contains interplanetary mining with the spectacle of Vampire Survivors

To The Core is, to borrow its Steam description, “an incremental game about extracting and using resources from planets to buy upgrades.” That’s pretty much it. I’ve played it for eight hours since buying it yesterday, hooked by a progression curve that takes you from an ineffectual mining ship chipping at a single planet’s rocky surface until you explode, to the leader of a swarm of bomb-dropping drones and aerial bombardment lasers that can travel a solar system and devour any planet to its core in seconds.

It’s part idle game, part Vampire Survivors, and it’s out now.

I play video games to see lots of colourful pixels move around.

When I say ineffectual, I mean ineffectual, since to begin with you can rotate your ship to point your drill, but that’s it. You can’t steer, beyond obeying gravity and angling a bounce off the planet’s surface. Progress is slow, then you explode.

After death, you can take your meagre haul and unlock some upgrades in a small skill tree. First you’ll gain the ability to hold the shift key to prevent bouncing, then the ability to steer with WASD. Then you can increase damage output from the drill and reduce fuel consumption, making each expedition more profitable. After each explosion, progress gets faster.

Each unlock and maxed-out node causes the branches of the skill tree to grow outward. Your humble beginnings provide a strong contrast for how powerful you rapidly become. Planets are made from layers of different materials and each is a resource that can be applied towards a different kind of upgrade, and soon enough your drill is diamond-plated and sand or coal or titanium has granted you access to passive buffs that are delivering extra resources for every block mined. At the point I’m at now, I’m armed not just with a drill but with a mining laser, regenerating grenades, auto-firing missiles, auto-firing electricity bolts, and the aforementioned drones and aerial bombardment lasers, and every attack triggers a chain of secondary and tertiary projectiles and explosions.

This is the Vampire Survivors of it all. I’m the same small mining ship I started as, but now I sit at the centre of a chaotic swarm of pixellated destruction.

It’s this spectacle that is keeping me playing. There is nothing challenging about overcoming each new planet. Progress is merely a matter of time – as made clear by various idle elements that are introduced, such as crafting and farming menus that let you set eternal production tasks in motion. There are no real choices to be made via the skill tree, even; you’ll unlock it all eventually.

Even the mining expeditions can become an idle game of sorts. I mentioned above that you were initially immobile except for gravity’s pull, but at my current power level, I have returned to simply letting my mining ship fall towards a planet’s core while my army does the work for me. One of my favourite things to do, after destroying a planet core, is to spin in the gravity well it leaves behind and simply wait until I’ve consumed the remainder of the planet from the inside out.

Despite enjoying myself with it, there is some part of me that wants to condemn To The Core. There’s nothing nutritious about it, it’s pure sugar. Yet philosophically, I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, only pleasure. To The Core is a pleasure. It’s Jupiter Ascending to ΔV: Rings Of Saturn’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

With a 30% launch discount, it’s currently £4.68/€5.45/$5.59 on Steam.