UnderMine (Switch) – Review
Follow Genre: Roguelite Dungeon Crawler
Developer: Thorium
Publisher: Thorium
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Tested on: Switch

UnderMine (Switch) – Review

Site Score
9.0
Good: Fun and addictive gameplay
Bad: Roguelite aficionados won't find anything new here
User Score
10.0
(3 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)

Back in 2019, Canadian developer Thorium made its debut with UnderMine, a roguelite dungeon crawler that received critical acclaim. Fast forward to February 2021 and the title has now made the jump to Switch. Of course, a game can age in two years, and ports from PC to console often tend to lose some of a game’s nuances. We were curious about the Switch version, so we delved into UnderMine to find out whether this is a game worth digging up or one that is best kept buried underground.

Story

UnderMine’s focus is mainly on its gameplay, so while there is a backstory, which is explained during the game’s opening scenes, there is no real story progress. This makes sense given the game’s gimmick of not having a true protagonist, as the game uses a permadeath feature. When your character dies, they are replaced with a new adventurer that picks up where your previous one kicked the bucket. As such, there is no need to tell a compelling story -although a character’s death is accompanied by a humorous obituary.

UnderMine’s premise, as explained by Arkanos, the archmage, during the game’s opening scenes is as follows: the titular Undermine is plagued by a series of mysterious earthquakes. Arkanos tasks the very first peasant he can find with finding and dealing with the source of these earthquakes. Along the way, this peasant-become-adventurer must also find and rescue the blacksmith, whose services will be needed to venture deep enough into the Undermine to deal with the cause of the earthquakes.

Graphics

While the 32-bit aesthetic has been overdone in recent years, UnderMine actually manages to get away with it. The game features beautiful sprite work and we were especially impressed with the way character sprites were distorted when they were reflected in water. The environments are beautifully lit, further enhancing the underground feel of the game and the mine is filled to the brim with visual details. Of course, we’re going to have to address the elephant in the room here: the adventurer characters’ outfits bear more than a passing resemblance to the gear usually worn by Link and that’s no coïncidence. UnderMine doesn’t hide that it was inspired by the Zelda franchise. This also translates to the designs of enemy characters, but UnderMine manages to twist these iconic sprites just enough to make them feel original despite any feelings of familiarity.

Sound

While the visuals bear resemblance to the old-school Zelda games, the music does not. The game’s soundtrack is decidedly more dramatic and intense than the beats you might expect from a game with a light-hearted story like this, and this really adds a sense of urgency to the plight of your adventurer. There is a surprising amount of variety here as well, with some tracks feeling suitably like the soundtrack to a medieval fantasy game and others stirring things up with electric guitars and fast beats. We found ourselves returning to the OST outside of our gaming session, which is a testament to just how catchy the music is. The music quality is crisp, and this also applies to the game’s sound effects, which are serviceable but nothing to write home about. Sadly, UnderMine doesn’t feature any voice acting, but given the retro nature of the title, this wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Gameplay

UnderMine is a roguelite dungeon crawler that shares more than a few similarities with the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Your goal is to investigate the source of the earthquakes that plague the kingdom and ultimately deal with this situation. Before you can do this, however, you’ll need to make your way through the mine, which comprises a series of randomly generated floors, populated with traps and enemies. Gameplay-wise, UnderMine is a straightforward experience, but a very polished one. The game’s only true gimmick lies within its permadeath feature. When your character inevitably dies, a new unlucky adventurer is tasked by the king with descending into the mine to pick up where his or her predecessor met their untimely demise.

Thankfully, novice adventurers don’t have to go in empty-handed. Instead, your new character inherits any upgrades the previous one had, as well as any remaining gold on their person. Before the new character ventures into the mine, you get the opportunity to spend this gold on items that give you a small stat boost but you can also opt to save your cash to buy bigger upgrades. As these upgrades stack, you’ll build up a much better adventurer over the course of several runs. This is one of the many features that helps UnderMine reach that “one more try” feeling that makes the game so fun and addictive. Completionists will also find a wealth of stuff to collect here, ranging from a bestiary of enemies to a selection of helpful animal familiars, including a canary that picks up gold for you.

Despite the game’s inherent nature of having to revisit the mine over and over again, UnderMine never feels repetitive, thanks to the fact that the dungeons are randomly generated. The floors of the mine hide many secrets, including additional sub-areas that feature their own sets of enemies and traps. Of course, there wouldn’t be any incentive to explore the floors if there weren’t any rewards to be found so UnderMine’s floors also hold powerful relics as well as blueprints that you can take to the blacksmith. These blueprints won’t instantly reward you with the item in question upon delivery, but will instead have a chance of spawning in the dungeons in later runs. Rounding out the core features are the ubiquitous boss fights and NPCs that you will need to rescue. The boss fights in particular will feel familiar to anyone that has played old school Zelda games, and rely on pattern memorization.

Looking at UnderMine’s individual features, there isn’t a single one that we can point at and go “this is bad”. You’re looking at a very polished and well thought out roguelite dungeon crawler, where every feature feels balanced and every choice of the developer makes sense. Add to this that controls feel tight and satisfying, and you’ve got a real winner here. The only downside, if you can call it that, is probably that UnderMine plays it a bit too safe. Apart from the aforementioned gimmick of new adventurers taking the place of the old ones, which is, in essence, a cosmetic gimmick rather than a game mechanic, developer Thorium doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The game does very little to differentiate itself from other big names in the genre, such as The Binding of Isaac or Spelunky. That’s not a bad thing per se, but if you were expecting a revolutionary new concept from UnderMine, you might end up a bit disappointed.

Conclusion

For fans of the roguelite genre, playing UnderMine is going to be like eating your favorite meal. You know you’re not going to get anything new or original, but what you’re getting is really, really good. Likewise, if you’ve never tried a roguelite title, you can’t really go wrong with UnderMine, as the game does what it does perfectly right. It’s fun, features beautiful artwork and catchy music, and most of all, it’s addictive.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
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UnderMine (Switch) - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
SebastiaanRaats


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