The roguelite genre has received some much-deserved love these past few years in many aspects. From Enter the Gungeon to Hades, there’s been roguelite after roguelite that’s taken the world by storm and offered something equally challenging and enjoyable. It’s a genre that I’ve quickly fallen in love with, despite generally not being the kind of person to play very challenging titles. Among the many roguelite games out there is UnderMine, an indie title from the developers at Thorium. Does it mine its way into the riches of top-tier roguelites? Find out in our UnderMine review!
Delving Into the Undermine
As you’d expect from a large majority of roguelites, UnderMine doesn’t put too much into the story aspect. Though there is an interesting backstory if you keep a keen eye on some of the dialogue. Regardless, your premise is that you’re a simple peasant (or in this case, an endless number of them) who seeks to make a living. As such, you head into the UnderMine to find the source of tremors and locate a blacksmith. These tasks are given by Arkanos, the Archmage of the kingdom. As you delve deeper, you discover more and more about what’s really going on, though I’ll avoid details to preserve spoilers. It’s worth experiencing yourself. Of course, if you don’t want to, you’re free to continue as if it doesn’t exist.
Mining Away At UnderMine’s Various Levels
Where the bread and butter (or I guess in this case, gold) lies is the gameplay. UnderMine works similar to most roguelites in the sense that you’re dropped into the main hub world with plenty of upgrades to buy. Whether you’re looking to improve various run rewards, damage, or are a demon who actually uses consumables, everything you’d want to upgrade is there. It tailors to the way you play and, while you can technically get everything, it lets you pick and choose what you’d prefer to focus on. As a ranged player in most games myself, my swing damage is still at level 4 at the time of writing but my throw range and damage are maxed out. It’s up to you though, even if I find you crazy for getting up close and personal.
Heading into the mines themselves is also similar to most roguelites. You move from room to room, acquiring new tools or slaying foes as you see fit. The main difference here (at least to a much further extent than other roguelites) is the focus on positional awareness. If you’re not attentive to particular aspects of each room, you’ll be heavily punished for it. While that by all means offers a substantial learning curve, mastering both it and the attack patterns of your enemies can feel incredibly satisfying once mastered.
The same sort of satisfaction from mastery goes for learning passives as well. Like any good roguelite, there are a lot of passives to take advantage of. Everything from simple stat boosts to full-on changes to your attacks is present, making each battle a matter of best playing the hand you’re dealt. Runs can change based simply on these, from getting long-range swings to ricocheting thrown pickaxe hits. Despite how refined and satisfying many of these passives can feel to earn, it can take quite some time to get the so-called “god” passives. It wasn’t until the 10th hour when I finally was getting S-tier passives, and thus much of the earlier runs did feel like a grind. UnderMine does a fair amount to keep the earlier runs engaging, such as its large aspect of discovery, but it did make that early game feel slow at times.
To say that after that is when things start to pick up though is an understatement. Once you get over that hurdle, UnderMine goes from great to amazing and thus made my next 10 hours feel like a breeze to progress through. Fresh passives, combined with the larger and larger upgrades, make fighting through monsters incredibly fun while remaining engaging. It makes those final desperate moments, taking down the final boss at very low health, all the more compelling. While I have yet to touch the god that is Hades, as far as gameplay goes this is still the best roguelite I’ve played since Enter the Gungeon, and that’s saying a lot.
The Beauty of Mining
As much as UnderMine may be a pixel art game by nature, the game is quite surprising as far as art direction goes. It’s one of the few titles where I actually found myself shocked by the level of detail, not just in the beauty of some of its levels but the attention to detail as well. It’s the little details that make the game intriguing, from the smoke trail of projectiles to the reflections within pools of water and against shining glass. That’s not something you traditionally expect from (sort of) 2D pixel art games, and thus it’ll surprise you the first time you see it. That’s not to say the environments aren’t beautiful though, as locations like the fourth floor offer an appealing blend of colors and backdrops.
Thankfully, the sound design shares this as well. Everything from your pickaxe swings to the enemy slashes sounds weighty and powerful, especially when factoring in the sounds of various passives. Lightning feels powerful, strums of a bard’s instrument have that heavenly melody, and thieving slimes have that mischievous attitude to them (they can also go die in a fire, but that’s another matter entirely). It all further accentuates that feeling you get no matter what floor of the mine you’re in, and it’s a detail that is much appreciated.
Heading into UnderMine, I was expecting a roguelite that wasn’t too bad but wasn’t anything great either. What I got instead was easily one of the best roguelites I’ve played since my time with Enter the Gungeon. The sheer attention to detail is staggering from both a visual and gameplay perspective, with so much to earn and look forward to. Combined with its high level of replayability, I found myself quickly addicted. It may have an issue in regards to a lack of high-tier passives, but the rest of the game overshadows this flaw greatly to still offer something equally engaging and endlessly fun. If you’re looking for a great roguelite, UnderMine is an adventure more than worth mining away at.
- Engaging combat
- Enough charm to go around
- High attention to detail
- Beautiful pixel art
- Highly replayable
- Lack of "god" passives