Dungeons can be bloody awful places at times, with dangers lurking around every corner of the generally grim and gloomy rooms within. On rare occasions though, they harbour treasures and even folks in distress, thus requiring someone to delve in to reap those rewards and save the day. And that’s more or less the case in UnderMine, the debut rogue-like action-adventure game from the developers over at Thorium Entertainment. But is UnderMine a gem of a title, or will you instead be scrambling to escape its depths?
Well, after being in Early Access on Steam for almost a year, the full release has certainly been worth the wait and the Xbox One version in particular delivers a pretty addictive experience. There’s a lot to like and very little in terms of negatives, but there is possibly space for a bit of room for improvement as well.
In UnderMine, you play as a worthless peasant who’s only good for one thing: being sent into the pits of the mines and beyond. That’s what the Archmage believes anyway, given that peasants are so easily replaced. He wants you to find the source of recent bizarre goings on down there and also rescue a few locals while you’re investigating. As far as storytelling is concerned, it’s slim pickings, which is fine because it possesses enough to provide a purpose for proceedings. Hence, with a pickaxe in hand and a sack over your shoulder, it’s off to work you go as you enter the Goldmines – the first of five areas to explore.
The action plays out in an isometric perspective, seeing you roam the rooms on each floor in search of gold, relics and missing people, before moving to the next floor. Chances are, you won’t get far. You will possess a couple of handy attacks to try and fight off any creatures though, with a swing of the pickaxe causing damage to those nearby and the ability to throw it at distant enemies. While this, and the use of bombs, works well, the lack of variety in the combat becomes a slight concern. Although not the end of the world, more weapon options would’ve been welcome and could’ve elevated the fun factor of UnderMine.
All of the rooms on each floor have the potential to be filled with enemies, traps and massive holes – that you’ll still fall down after hours of experience under your belt – and this peasant is fairly weak in the early stages, therefore the aim is to accumulate as much gold as possible ahead of the inevitable demise. Upon death, a percentage of your riches are inherited by the next poor fool who takes on the task, which can be spent in ‘The Hub’ in order to improve your outlook for future runs.
The prospect of dying every five to ten minutes or so doesn’t seem all that enticing, but when there’s gold involved and nifty relics to craft, the whole process becomes ridiculously addictive in no time at all. There’s a real sense that progress is being made with each delve into the dreaded dungeons and attempts gradually go on longer. Especially as The Hub gets populated by merchants you’ve rescued, introducing permanent upgrades to health, attack power, attack range and the all-important sack capacity. Other things are stocked here as well, including bombs, keys and ways to enhance the pop-up shops.
The floor layouts really have a key role when it comes down to keeping the adventure fresh as they’re different on each occasion, with discoverable secret areas commonplace too. There are also environmental hazards to be used to your advantage, such as barrels that can set oil alight and water that’s ready to be electrified. In terms of enemy types faced within the rooms, they’re in short supply initially, with rats, pesky flies and slimy Glomps being the main foes. What’s great to see though, is that as you reach the prison-like Delvemore and the Halls of Din, there’s an influx of interesting baddies. Prepare to tackle Imps, bats, wolf/spider hybrids, witches, and many others on your travels later on.
The bosses and sub-bosses are damn cool too, featuring a giant slithering centipede, a stealthy rock-pile and a golem surrounded by orbs, to name just a few. These encounters are tricky, but learning the attack patterns and patiently waiting for an opening is the best approach. Given that you’ll run through the dungeons multiple times, it’s a relief that the bosses only need beating once, rather than slogging it out in every attempt.
The real game-changers in UnderMine though, are the relics, blessings and curses you can acquire during each playthrough. The best kind can increase your income, electrify the peasant after a throw, leech life from or ignite enemies, and generate more secret rooms. As for the darn curses, well, they may damage you for jumping, limit the health meter, cause fire to rain down periodically, and make the usually harmless Pilfers – creatures who just want loose gold – rather dangerous. While the curses might be the death of you, the potluck nature makes everything exciting.
As far as looks are concerned, UnderMine has a pixel art aesthetic, which probably won’t amaze you; however it does a good enough job of portraying the various characters and enemies, making it easy to differentiate between them. The dungeon locations are fine until you’ve traversed them fifty times, then you realise they’re a tad bland. It doesn’t matter an awful lot though in the grand scheme of things.
It’s safe to say that UnderMine on Xbox One will keep you coming back time and time again as it definitely has a ‘one more go’ vibe. No matter how full your sack is or what upgrades are available, you always feel like you’re making some kind of progress and the rewards are plentiful. The relics, alongside the blessings and curses, ensure there’s a freshness to every attempt. It’s just a shame the combat gets samey, with the pickaxe wielding soon getting old, but you’ll overcome that thanks to the rest of the game.
Be sure to grab UnderMine for a very good rogue-like experience and embrace your new addiction. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to mine, die, spend, repeat.