UnderMine is a roguelite closely resembling The Binding of Isaac, whilst offering its own spin on traditional mechanics. While it doesn't revitalise the genre, it's a joy to play, with plenty of variation and an addictive gameplay loop.
The game has been out of Early Access on Steam for six months now, and it is finally arriving on Nintendo Switch. A word on the performance though: it's not great. In my time playing, I experienced plenty of framerate hitches when there were too many enemies or too much gold on screen, and I had a total of six soft-crashes in my first five hours of playtime. Otherwise though, controls feel tight and responsive, and the graphics are seamless.
I can only describe the main game of UnderMine as roguelite-lite. This is mostly due to it offering a strong sense of RPG-like progression, in the form of upgrading your weapon, health, throw range, etc. but this ultimately reduces the difficulty and thus the value of items. Me, I'm a sucker for a progression system, but I still found myself too focused on running the game for gold rather than to get farther than before. Certainly, there is more gold to be found deeper in the mine, but the bosses can be skipped, and after defeating them once, they no longer spawn. This makes the main game less replayable after defeating its fifth and final boss and changes its pacing significantly.
However, saying this, all UnderMine's bosses must be defeated in order to access its end-game OtherMine mode, a true roguelike experience which removes any upgrades and randomises bosses. This, I might say, is the real replayability aspect of the game.
Regardless, during the main game I got that 'one more run' sense every time with UnderMine. The progression system is rewarding and addictive and encourages you to collect as much gold and Thorium - the currency for unlocking new items - as possible. New items are unlocked by finding blueprints and crafting them at their respective merchants, who all have to found in the levels also. These levels are varied and range from a typical medieval dungeon to a cavern of glistening gems, with their layouts being generally simple but including secret rooms, traps, and loot. Each level contains three floors, each with a merchant and an item room, which will be locked after the first floor. It's not particularly original as it follows the formula of The Binding of Isaac, but it does enough in its European fantasy world to differentiate itself from this influence. One interesting addition are the pilfers, strange creatures who emerge when gold is spilled and attempt to run away with it. This can make for some chaos when the whole room is golden, and for some much-needed venting when you smack the little things off-screen Team Rocket-style.
Many items have interesting effects, but until you unlock more items, there aren't that many, and in unlocking more there is a significant flaw: you can skip the bad ones. Sure, you won't necessarily know which are considered bad, especially in the game's meta, but unlike The Binding of Isaac, all items have tooltips to inform you of their effects. Allowing the player to customise the item pool like this takes away the inherent randomisation in the genre, and increases the odds of winning, which isn't a good thing. Additionally, you only have one weapon in the game - the pickaxe - and no relic can change this. So, you might get a relic that increases your damage at high health, but this makes it more of a stat game than actually having discernible special effects that drastically alter a run. However, the game's potions are generally more fun because of their wild and wacky (but also useful) effects. These range from duplicating all the gold in the room, to dropping bombs constantly. Plus, some items do synergise well together, like items which increase your gold income. Overall though, items are not particularly engaging.
Despite this, items are certainly still necessary for defeating the countless enemies you will face. Some of them can truly make your life hell, and destroy what would have otherwise been a won run. You'll fight the quintessential slime, trolls and ogres, giant burrowing worms, and strange mannequins who construct electric cages. They always feel fair and not too difficult, with the harder ones creating an appropriate amount of tension. Furthermore, each zone's boss is well suited to its environment, and offers a challenge - though not quite enough. I defeated two on my first try, and as I've mentioned, they don't respawn, causing the game's pacing to quicken. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it does mark a significant change from traditional games of the genre. Another issue with the game's foes is that they are also pattern-based, and while this is good for the average enemy so you can feel your combat skills increase, bosses really only have one phase which grows in intensity, while they would benefit from two or three distinctive phases to provide a challenge.
Ultimately, UnderMine is a great game. I had a lot of fun playing it, and while it has its issues, I believe its foundations are strong, and its longevity could extend to rival that of roguelikes like The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon.
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