Genre: Action, Adventure, Rogue-lite
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam, PS4 & Xbox)
Age Rating: EU 7+ | US Everyone
Price: US $19.99 | UK £15.49 | EU €19,99
Release Date: February 11th, 2021
Review code provided with many thanks to Thorium
The Quest for Gold
Just when I think there is no more room in my gaming life for another rogue-lite, Undermine comes along to buy me a coffee and asks me to sit down for a chat. Tens of hours later I still seem to be having that chat and I forgot to drink my coffee because I got so distracted.
The intro screen shows a line of peasants entering the mine one after the other on a quest for gold and adventure. There’s not a lot of story but there are plenty of characters to encounter, each of whom have advice to dispense and a bit of witty dialogue to deliver. The tone of the game is very light-hearted. Even the enemies themselves have a kinda cute feeling to them particularly these blobs that spawn to come and steal your gold in each room. Overall it feels family-friendly and suited to everyone.
Randomly Generated Dungeons
This is a top-down action game where you move through random dungeons defeating enemies and collecting gold. You have a health bar so making mistakes is fine but like most games in this genre, death can come pretty quickly early on.
The main goal is to get to the end of each level, progressing as far as you can before dying and defeating any large boss that gets in your way. As you work your way through, you can find upgrades which will buff your abilities such as increasing your health or attack etc. You can also collect potions to temporarily buff certain stats. This way these abilities combine to adjust the gameplay in such a way that every playthrough feels quite unique and different. It does also mean that some runs will undoubtedly be better than others. There are various treasure chests to discover most will give you gold, health, keys or bombs. Some though may grant you useful items but at a cost of a curse which adds an extra challenge to the gameplay, for example, having lanterns in a room shoot fire at you. These curses can be lifted but the risk is yours to take.
When you die you lose a portion of gold, the rest passes on to the next randomly generated peasant. This can be used to permanently upgrade various abilities as well as obtain permanent items to aid you in your quest. These make future runs just a little easier as well as giving you the incentive to replay to check out your upgrades.
You Can Jump
The controls are simple to pick up and play. You defeat enemies by swiping with your pickaxe up close or flinging it from a distance. You soon learn that each enemy has a particular pattern to it and using the attack in the right way will help you dispatch them. You can also jump in this game, something that is quite uncommon in top-down games. This seems to play as the main feature in avoiding enemy attacks, traps and bottomless pits. You can also collect bombs, which can be used to defeat enemies, destroy rocks and even find secret rooms. The game performs well in both TV and handheld mode and I’m happy to report I encountered no bugs or glitches during my playthrough.
Graphics are charming and colourful, as mentioned there is a certain warmness to the character and enemy design that makes you sort of want to make friends with everything. Well, maybe not the boss characters, all of whom are huge, scary and take many attempts to defeat. There is some nice attention to detail in the levels. Foliage, skeletons and even your own reflection in the water, a detail that is worth appreciating. As you explore the dungeons there is a nice score playing in the background. The sound effects feel kinda retro particularly when you pick up a new item.
I really couldn’t find a lot of niggles with Undermine. I guess if I was to be picky one could say the formula here is very similar to other rogue-lites. You end a run, down a portion of gold and use it to upgrade your abilities gradually getting stronger and getting a little further in the game each time.
Though familiar, I just kept having another run at this game. The gameplay loop is fun and addictive and hard to put down. Sessions that I intended to be short soon became a lot longer. I occasionally hit the odd wall, where it felt like I was making very slow progress with upgrades, but I was still more than happy to dive in for another run even if the progress was minimal. It doesn’t have co-op yet, I guess that’s a niggle.
Plenty of Content
The game will easily keep you busy for several hours and then some. With lots of items to unlock, secrets to discover including little animal friends to follow you around the levels. The game has a clever approach of letting you skip ahead so you don’t have to repeat the same early dungeon areas repeatedly. You are usually given a few abilities for doing this so you don’t totally miss out on what you could have found on the earlier level. However, I had so much fun exploring the same dungeons I was just happy starting from the beginning mining for gold and just taking my time. There’s a lot of variety to the random dungeon layouts so every run felt new and different to me.
A Golden Nugget
Undermine is a rogue-lite that doesn’t reinvent the wheel compared to other games in the genre. But this wheel is of high quality and made to such a high standard it’s hard to ignore.
If you’re old or new to the genre Undermine is a title that you can sink hundreds of hours in long or short bursts. Undermine is easily up there as one of the best titles in the Rogue Lite genre. Excellent stuff!
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up