Rogue-likes are hardly few and far between, with the Nintendo Switch home to so many top-notch high-stakes dungeon crawlers that it’s often difficult for new titles to stand out in the crowd. Fortunately for UnderMine, it already brought with it a stellar reputation following its release on Steam in Autumn last year. It’s something I was aware of and it helped make it one of my more anticipated titles to see release on the Nintendo Switch this month.
I’ve finally spent a TON of hours with the game and I’m glad to report that it’s just as fun as I hoped it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t do anything to revolutionise the genre in any way, but everything it does do it does so well… this is definitely a title that fans of the rogue-like genre won’t want to ignore.
The game’stale is pretty simple: you take on the role of an expendable miner who has been sent into the UnderMine by the Archmage Arkanos to help discover the secrets that it hides. You know how I said you’re expendable? Well, I meant that, with the player taking on the role of a different miner each time they… uh… die. Yeah, it’s grim, but who knows what treasures lie beneath?! I’m sure the journey is worth it…
If you’ve played a rogue-like before, UnderMine’s gameplay should feel pretty familiar from the get-go. Players work their way down the titular UnderMine, all whilst defeating enemies in their path, evading hazards, collecting loot and power-ups, and vanquishing the many bosses in their path as they look to reach their goal. What exactly awaits you at that goal? You’ll have to play to find out, but don’t forget: this is a rogue-like, so if you die, you’re starting the journey all over again (albeit with a few previously earned bonuses).
That description could be used to describe just about every other game in the rogue-like genre but UnderMine deserves a bit more credit. At first glance there’ll probably be a sense of familiarity (especially to those that played some of the older The Legend of Zelda titles), but there’s enough going on beneath the surface to ensure that each run you have through the game is both addictive and a whole lot of fun.
Some of that is thanks to the level design itself, which offers plenty of variety and a fair difficulty balance as you look to battle the many nasties that linger throughout each procedurally-generated area and evade the many traps in your path. There are different environment types to gaze upon and enemy types to face off against as you progress too, ensuring you won’t get stuck looking at a lot of the same things over and over again. As mentioned, UnderMine’s design shares a lot of similarities with the older The Legend of Zelda titles and that’s something that is particularly obvious with the dungeons – of course, that can only be a good thing and it should serve as proof that they’re all well-designed and fun to trek through.
There are blocked pathways you can open with keys and bombs to gain access to new areas too, so exploration is encouraged in the game. It’s the best way to earn some upgrades, with some of the buffs only lasting through that current run but offering a real boost to give you a fighting chance at survival. You’ll even help save NPCs whilst exploring each dungeon, which sees them setting up camp back at the top of the UnderMine and offering players goodies to purchase before their next run.
Of course, you can’t purchase anything without gold, but fortunately the UnderMine is full to the brim with it. How do you get it? By mining it, of course, with your trusty pickaxe the perfect tool to smash up objects in the environment and reap the riches that they were hiding. Interestingly, there are little goblin-like creatures who’ll run out around you when there’s gold to be found and try to steal it before you can grab it, meaning it’s often a race to try and grab the many rewards you’ll find during your adventure. It might sound hindersome, but it actually adds a strategic element to the game where you often have to decide if you want to focus on beating up the enemies around you and prioritise your safety, or instead go for the valuables instead… it probably depends on the type of player you are.
I know what you’re thinking – maybe you shouldn’t worry about gold too much since, you know, death means starting all over again from the start. Fortunately, UnderMine does bring with it a sense of progression with each death, with the player carrying over a set amount of gold (which can be increased by purchasing upgrades) each time they die. All the items you collect? Yeah, they’re going, so don’t grow too attached to those.
It makes the gold that you collect feel all the more valuable, but it also brings with it an element of risk and reward where you have to decide if your gold should be spent in the shops you encounter in the UnderMine itself to improve your chances of success in that run or instead be saved up to be carried over to the next attempt. It was a tricky decision I had to consider quite often, ESPECIALLY when I knew there were some items I really wanted to purchase on top.
This felt especially important when it came to pickaxe upgrades. The pickaxe is the only weapon you’ll use in UnderMine, with the other gear you find or purchase simply offering buffs that can be equipped – this might be a little bit disappointing to those who really like to play around with different weapon builds in their rogue-likes, but the fact that it can be used as a melee or ranged weapon does add some variation to its use. There are items and stats boosts to purchase too, with new options opening up as you collect the different recipes that are hidden throughout the UnderMine, so it’s ALWAYS a good thing to have a healthy gold balance to carry over between runs.
There’s a satisfying sense of progress to be found in-between runs in UnderMine and it helps make the game all the more addictive to play. Of course, it helps that the gameplay itself is a lot of fun too, with each battle with enemies or precise leap through traps helping make the experience feel all the more thrilling to get through. Add to that some epic boss battles that will really push your skills to their limit and it becomes easy to see that UnderMine has all of the ingredients in place to offer a very satisfying rogue-like romp. Sure, it is a little guilty of lacking originality in places, but it won’t bother you too much – especially since every facet of its design is done so well.
UnderMine offers a rogue-like experience that’s both entertaining and addictive, with each run through the titular dungeon making for an exciting (and dangerous) romp. There’s a satisfying sense of progress to be found with the collection of gold and improving your character between runs, whilst the solid level design ensures there’s always something new to overcome or discover during each run.
It can be a little bit guilty of lacking originality in places and it didn’t do anything I hadn’t seen done in the genre before, but its great sense of exploration and competent design across the board ensures that UnderMine stands out as a must-play rogue-like.
Developer: Thorium Entertainment
Publisher: Fandom, Thorium Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC