I appreciate any game that takes a novel approach to the retro aesthetic. Man doesn’t live by NES and SNES alone, and those who model games after less explored systems deserve some recognition. Extra credit is due for anyone with the nerve to give their own game a name starting with “Under,” therefore guaranteeing that Steam will conflate it with That Other Indie Game.
Aesthetics is only the opening act — we’re mostly interested in the game itself. UnderDungeon does a few things right in that regard, with a snarky sense of humor and some pretty tight throwback action-adventure gameplay. However, it might get a little too aggravating for its own good.
The goal of this dungeon crawler is to get and keep a job. Should be a simple task, but nothing is ever easy in the world of retro-styled games.
Kimuto is the newest hire at Unlimited Distribution, a Kutopian package delivery service. Being a delivery boy isn’t normally so exciting, but Kutopia is not a normal place. The place swarms with monsters, and the heroes tasked with clearing them out haven’t exactly been up to the task. That leaves poor Kimuto with two jobs: delivering packages and solving whatever monster-related problem has sprung up at the delivery site.
UnderDungeon is not a game that takes itself too seriously. From the clients, to the bosses, to his coworkers — everyone Kimuto meets is a bit off-kilter. The monsters are even loopier! From angry robotic turnips to breakdancing ghosts, the opposition gets just plain weird.
UnderDungeon is an action-adventure, with core gameplay similar to what you’d see in a 2D Zelda title. Kimuto collects a range of weapons that can be upgraded to give them powered-up attacks, along with one-shot items useful for protection and solving puzzles.
Each delivery site houses at least one important item needed to solve a puzzle blocking the boss, which is itself usually well-hidden. This part of the game can become unexpectedly difficult. Kimuto doesn’t have a lot of life, and opportunities for healing aren’t as common as they are in old Zelda games. Getting through each dungeon means figuring out the best way to fight each enemy so that you don’t get hit more than necessary.
On the plus side, death isn’t all that painful — you may even make a fast friend with the skeletal fellow in the black robe.
UnderDungeon occasionally mixes things up a little with minigames. Some of these are pretty standard: DDR-like rhythm challenges, gallery shooters, and avoiders. Others are a little more unusual. The most unexpected section sees Kimuto turned into a mouse to explore a pseudo-3D world hidden behind the walls of a fortress.
I’ve put off describing the visuals because the images kind of speak for themselves. Developer Josyan styled the game to appear like an 8-Bit computer game with a strictly monochrome palette. This is probably bracing for the younger generation of players who have never experienced these systems firsthand, but the graphical design is clean enough that it never gets in the way.
UnderDungeon has its frustrating moments. Probably the weakest part of the games lies in the puzzles. While the puzzles aren’t too bad by themselves, the game suffers from a lack of signposting that can make it unclear what the player is meant to do.
The best reason to play this game is to see what comes next. If your own sense of whimsy lines up with the game’s, then it’ll be enough to compensate for getting stuck now and then.
The heart of UnderDungeon is its quirky sense of humor. The game is a great fit for anyone who appreciates a little snark and has some skill with action-adventure games. Those with less experience in this area may find it frustrating, but I’d argue the game’s stylistic backdrop and charm are worth the challenge.
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