Undertale is one of those games that feels like it belongs on a Nintendo system. I don’t know whether it’s down to the Earthbound-like appearance, the old school RPG vibes, or just the fact that I’d love to play it on the go during a long journey; there’s just something about it that makes it feel like the perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch.
It just so happens to be a bloody good game too, and one that really does something that’s truly unique in the RPG genre. It’s an experience that’ll delight, shock, charm and entertain in equal measure, but each instance of emotion-invoking brilliance absolutely needs to be experienced first-hand. I’ll avoid spoilers here as well as too much detail of Undertale’s little secrets and quirks – just know that there are surprises aplenty throughout the entirety of your journey through this much-loved RPG.
So Undertale puts you into the unfortunate shoes of a kid who falls deep underground into the realm of the monsters. Why are the monsters there, you ask? Well, because there was a huge war between them and the humans years ago and, since the monsters lost, they were exiled beneath the ground. You’ve got to find a way to escape from this strange place and make your way back above ground to safety. Of course, that’s a lot easier said and done, especially since there are plenty of strange-natured monstrous citizens that are in your way…
Whilst the premise itself is simple enough, Undertale presents its tale in a way that’s funny, charming, and emotional, with tonal shifts aplenty as you make your way through the game. There’s this zany undertone to just about everything you see and do, but then from nowhere something will happen that’ll genuinely evoke a sense of sympathy from the player. It’s just an incredibly well-written and well-presented tale, with the jokes going down well and the touching moments even more so. It’ll make the player want to absorb themselves into the experience even more and speak to just about every inhabitant of the underground they come across, whilst the moments where the game breaks the fourth-wall will even make them feel like they’re actually a part of the world themselves. It’s something I could massively appreciate throughout the entirety of the game and it certainly helped cement Undertale’s status as one of the more unique RPGs out there.
Combat in the game takes a very unique approach, though it’s one that can feel a bit simplified depending on how you approach it. I should probably mention that each encounter with an enemy is unique, with your foe’s personality always coming through whether it be from how they interact with the player or the attacks they send your way. Interestingly, if an enemy attacks you it isn’t as straightforward as just taking damage – you instead have to take part in a small mini-game where you steer a small heart out of the way of incoming damage icons. Actually attacking enemies takes a unique approach too, with the player taking part in another mini-game where they have to stop a moving bar at the right spot for maximum damage. It might sound like a strange system, and sure, it’s quirky as heck, but it actually works quite well and seems fitting given that Undertale is an unusual game anyway. However, not every situation in the game has to be solved with violence – in fact, sometimes it’s better to show mercy to your enemies as opposed to pummel them with attacks.
When showing mercy to enemies and sparing their lives, you’re put in another mini-game where you have to use your wits and show your human side to try and earn the trust of your foe. The approach you have to take varies depending on who you’re facing off against, though it’s normally just a case of looking at your foe and what traits they have and figuring out what would please them the most. Some might just need an act of kindness, some might want some sympathy, whilst some might just fancy a flirt – it’s up to the player to figure out what they need to do and adapt to it. They’re almost like puzzles in a way, with each act of mercy unique and testing the player in different ways.
Sparing enemies will actually trigger different events in-game, so it’s certainly worth trying it out just to see how your pacifism affects the story. In fact, there are three endings to the game in total based upon how many enemies you kill, so it’s worth playing through it in its entirety more than once just to see each of these outcomes. It should take around nine hours to finish Undertale on the first run and subsequent playthroughs should be even shorter, so at least it won’t be a massive time sink seeing each conclusion to the game.
Outside of exploring the world, meeting its inhabitants, and defeating (or sparing) enemies, there are also puzzles to solve in the game. Sure, they’re never too complicated, but they add an additional fun twist to traversing the world. The Nintendo Switch version of Undertale actually has a few unique additions too, though the fact that this is my first time through the game means I can’t really detail them here. I guess it’s up to returning players to figure out what they are…
One thing that’s worth mentioning is that Undertale isn’t going to be the prettiest game you play on the Switch, with it adopting an 8-bit visual style that’s… well… a little ugly at times. Somehow though, this works – sure, the world might feel a little bland in places and you won’t always see a lot of colour throughout it either, yet it fits the bleak and bizarre setup of the game. It just feels right. The soundtrack though? It’s brilliant and unique throughout. It fits the tone of the game perfectly and you’ll find some of the catchier tunes sticking in your head long after you’ve completed your adventure through the underground.
Developer: Toby Fox
Publisher: Toby Fox
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux