IT’S OFF TO WORK WE GO!
Growing up, there was always a franchise that remained predominant in my life – The Legend of Zelda. I adored its setting, the charm in all its entries, and most importantly, the combat. So once Undermine came to my attention, my interest was piqued. Initially released on PC as an early access title, the fundamental mechanics of it attracted me. Not to mention the visuals reminded me of a refined take on those in A Link to the Past. I, however, don’t own a PC, so I lacked a way to play. My only option was to watch videos and imagine Undermine in my hands. No more of that as it’s now out on not only Nintendo Switch, but all major consoles. After over 25 hours of hard labor, I’m ready to dig in – pun intended.
A MAN AND HIS PICKAXE!
Undermine tells a short story of continuous earthquakes. The cause, however, isn’t at all known and it’s up to you to find out. As you delve deeper into the mines, you’ll encounter various enemies: bats, slimes, flies, and many others. Along the way, you‘ll also come across those that‘ve traveled down before you. This will be a tough journey but randomly placed perks assure it’ll be doable. As your character goes further into the depths, what truths will you reveal?
You’ll assume the role of a peasant tasked to explore. As you enter the tunnels, be sure to smash everything in sight; there’s gold ore to collect and blueprints to discover. Do remain vigilant though as your greed can prove to have debilitating consequences. Curses await as you descend into the dark void known as the underground.
SOME HEFTY CHUCKLES!
While the absence of a sprawling narrative is evident, dialogue is present. To be frank, I quite enjoyed the playful banter. Undermine doesn’t take itself seriously, leaning into the silliness. In fact, right when I began, the Arch-Mage summoned me to his chambers. He’d shout for me to be quick but of course, I tested my luck. I didn’t heed his outcries and he’d progressively get angrier – to the point that he’d threaten to teleport me into the room. No matter how long I persisted though, he’d eventually just cycle through his dialogue. It’s a nitpick but I would’ve enjoyed it if he followed through. It would’ve been hilarious if he’d cartoonishly chastise me for rebelling.
BATS, BATS EVERYWHERE!
The beautiful pixel-art isn’t the only reason I liken Undermine to SNES-era Zelda. While they do share that in common, the real-time combat takes inspiration from it as well. Although, it does so with a slight twist. You’ll be slashing with your pickaxe, but can also utilize it as a boomerang. With the press of a button, a close-range weapon is now long-range. I absolutely loved using it as I dodged projectiles. And let me tell you, it’ll get hectic. I wouldn’t say it’s like a bullet hell though. Numerous tiny pellets will assuredly fill the screen, but a jump can also avoid most, if not all. The battling itself is fun and it got my adrenaline pumping, especially when near death. Let me tell you, I panicked and leaped a lot while yelping. One thing I adored, however, were the items.
A RELIC AND A CURSE!
I had an absolute blast scavenging for relics. These grant unique perks that help to make each playthrough run smoothly. That’s right – Undermine is a rogue-like, so multiple runs will be had. The presence of relics guarantees every attempt differs. What had me excited about this was having to adapt to whatever I found. Unlike others in the rogue-like genre, my character build is dependant on RNG. I could be a machine in melee combat on one run but a bomb-crazed lunatic on the next. Some of the benefits acquired through relics are bigger bombs, a faster swing, higher throw damage, and so on. Naturally, I did think some were pointless in their effect. Fortunately, it never took long to replace it with something far better. If game balance is something you worry about, you can rest easy. The monsters you’ll encounter will always pack a punch. There’s a mechanic as well that counteracts perks allocated called curses.
It’s here I feel the risk/reward system is most evident. Scattered throughout the mines are small altars. When prayed upon, they’ll give you a blessing of your choice. It is, however, between a predetermined selection made by the game itself. I’d describe them as a relic but better. What I mean is that they outright increase a stat. There’s a catch though – you’ll be inflicted by a random curse. In fact, some can be downright brutal – and let me tell you, there are several. There’s one that will add fall damage to jumping. It won’t be lethal as it’s a minuscule amount but it does add up. I might have died once or twice due to panic leaping. There will be methods to uncurse yourself. It either requires a talisman or blood sacrifice – a portion of health.
SEND IN THE CANARY!
Golden ore is vital in Undermine and is used to purchase permanent upgrades. It’s not as easy to pick up as you’d expect though. After excavating some, little creatures will begin to spawn. These will effectively try to jack what you’ve uncovered. So if you’re not quick, that chuck worth 120 will vanish. It’s a neat idea and adds a sense of urgency to it. It can get tough, especially when faced with several of those little buggers. There were times I’d lose out on several pieces because I was too slow. It can be a bit of an annoyance but to ease that a bit, each peasant has a pet dubbed “Familiar”. By default, it’s a canary that’ll help collect ore. Speaking of that, these have the capability to level up too.
WAIT, THAT LOOKS ‘FAMILIAR’!
AAs I’ve already noted, peasants begin with the default canary familiar. When I first played, I thought nothing of it. I assumed it was merely decoration. To my surprise, however, this pet mechanic is sort of a collect-a-thon in itself. If like me, you immediately browse the in-game journal, there’s a section specifically dedicated to them. There are quite a few to find in they’ll come in the form of an egg. Inside these are many different types of creatures with varying abilities. For transparency, I couldn’t unlock them all. Those I did get, however, had helpful techniques.
If we use the canary as an example, it’ll help collect gold ore. At first, it won’t be very quick about it. While it’ll help, those aforementioned swiping creatures will be able to grab a few. As you continue though, the familiar will actually gain experience points and gain levels. It’ll max out at three but in doing so, they never learn new tricks. Instead, pre-existing skills simply improve. For the canary, it’ll see a buff to its speed. To the point that picking up ore feels instantaneous. If this doesn’t tickle your fancy though, there’s a canary that‘ll barbecue your foes. As the kids would say, that’s a pretty lit alternative.
WILL THE ROCKS ‘CRASH’ DOWN?
UnderMine is undoubtedly a fun romp but has technological hiccups, at least on the Nintendo Switch where I played it. I suffered my first when there was a ton of on-screen action. I noticed it the most with enemies that shot projectiles. It was nothing major and the slow-down didn’t lead to unfair deaths. I do feel that it’s worth mentioning all the same. I’d personally think of it more as an annoyance. The second little mishap was crashing. I had two instances in my session. The first was when transitioning floors, with the second happening after being killed. Luckily, it never derailed progression because Undermine compulsively saves. So again, I considered it more of an annoyance as opposed to a detriment.
AND THE DIRTY VERDICT IS…
My review is a bit late because Undermine had me completely hooked. While there’s no huge story to speak of, the dialogue was sort of funny to me. Perhaps it’s my childish sense of humor but it really heightened my experienced. I loved having pets known as familiars, and the fact there are more than ten to find has me all excited to see what abilities they all have. The pixel-art is beautiful and the gameplay itself is very reminiscent of A Link to the Past. I can’t say that new ground is broken in terms of music, but the rogue-like genre, in general, are perfect games to play while listening to podcasts in my opinion. I wasn’t too bothered and to be frank, the music isn’t going to stun you.
It doesn’t, however, come without a few flaws. I experienced two crashes and a slow-down. It’s important to note that since there’s a good auto-save function, those crashes were more of an annoyance than anything. The same could be said for the slow-down. I would like to very briefly say I’d suggest remapping the buttons. I’ve included a picture of the set-up that I used and found most comfortable for long sessions above.
All in all, Undermine is a lot of fun and it lived up to the hype I had for it. While there are small issues, I never felt my overall enjoyment was tainted in any way. I would love there to be a physical release and I want DLC. My opinion is thusly;
UNDERMINE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
If you find yourself starving for more hack and slash action, check out our review of Persona 5 Strikers!
Many thanks go to Thorium who provided a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.