Cellar is a short game. In fact, I was able to complete it within an hour, and that included striving for 100% completion. I can’t complain, as Cellar is available for the low price of 99 cents. It’s a simple, challenging and fun game, a dollar well spent!
In Cellar, You play as a young girl named Lily, who wakes in the middle of the night to discover her teddy Blackbear the Pirate is missing. Blackbear is of the utmost importance to her, so Lily is willing to traverse the dark corners of the basement under her house in search of him. What Lily doesn’t realise is that the basement is plagued by a series of traps and fanged foetus-like creatures. Worst of all is a giant green abomination that pursues Lilly relentlessly throughout her quest.
Vertical Skull Games, a two man indie team based in Warsaw, Poland, were inspired to create a game that’s based upon some of our greatest childhood fears. Vertical Skull asks if you “remember when as a child you were sent to fetch something from the cellar and you were always afraid that something’s lurking there in the darkness?” For me, the answer is no. My family have never had a cellar, nor do I believe many Australian houses do. What I remember is that we had a downstairs area that was used exclusively for a second fridge and the laundry. I was terrified whenever I was asked to retrieve something from down there after dark. At least until I found the light switch.
Gameplay is presented through a top-down view (think early Zelda games), with handcrafted pixelated graphics. Lily cannot perform any actions other than movement, thus all that’s required to play is a directional pad. Cellar features 8 levels of maze-puzzle gameplay. Each level requires you to locate the key and proceed to the exit. Although as soon as you acquire the key, the green abomination hounds you until you escape. If you are a completionist, there is also one of Lily’s lost toys to collect in each level. I suggest finding the toy before the key, so that you don’t need to worry about the abomination.
Adding to the difficulty, are the traps and enemies you encounter along the way. Cracked floor panels collapse once you cross them, forcing you to find an alternate route. Pipes dispense hot steam, and the previously mentioned foetus-like creatures roam the halls. None of these traps or enemies are particularly difficult to avoid, not until the abomination is on your tail. Then the gameplay becomes a frantic clash of running, timing and memorising the correct route.
After completing the campaign, a challenge mode is unlocked. This mode is basically time trial mode that features an hourglass counting down in the corner of the screen. Your objective is to complete each level before the sand passes through the hourglass. If Steam achievements are your thing, then you will need to complete this mode and several playthroughs of the campaign to earn them all.
I don’t have a single issue with Cellar. My one suggestion is that for a casual and short game, it feels like it would be far better suited on mobile. Hopefully Vertical Skull develops a mobile port in the future, which should expand their market and open up Cellar to a whole new audience. In the meantime, you can download it now on Steam.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer who has seen enough movies and played enough games to know that nothing good comes from owning a house with a basement. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrVane