I will forever be a slave to retrogaming nostalgia. I grew up playing video games on -wait for this- cassette tapes (!) on my sister’s big ol’ ZX Spectrum, and some of those early games left an impression on me that I don’t think I’ll ever shake. And it was this sense of nostalgia that piqued my interest in the 1-bit stylings of UnderDungeon – a dungeon crawler from Josyan and Red Deer Games that looked every bit the cassette-loaded classic!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Awesome C64-retrostyled graphics|
+ Great soundtrack
+ Short but sweet with a wacky storyline
|Negatives||– The old-school aesthetic won’t be for everyone|
– No great depth of gameplay
– Soft locked out multiple times
|Price (When Reviewed)||£9.99|
|Our Playtime||4 hours 50 mins|
|Available On||Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
UnderDungeon sees you play as the cute cat-creature Kimuto, the newly appointed delivery man for the Unlimited Distribution Company beginning life in his new job in order to pay his rent. Accompanied by your fairy companion Max, you’re charged with running entirely random goods to whoever calls up and makes a request, battling monsters and overcoming puzzles to complete the order for your customer. You return to the Unlimited Distribution offices in between deliveries and become familiar with a cohort of wacky anthropomorphic colleagues, including the overbearing gorilla of a manager, Kring Koss, and the twitchily, overly caffeinated Teaffy. It’s a simple premise that’s played into a series of fun adventures that come with a heaped helping of silliness. UnderDungeon leans heavily into this playful energy and is never in risk of taking itself too seriously.
Old school in every sense of the word, UnderDungeon walks closely in the footsteps of Zelda and follows the tried and true dungeon crawler formula to a tee. Each of Kimuto’s deliveries is a foray into a new area of the world and grows his arsenal of weapons and gadgets to help you defeat the baddies and navigate the region. There are upgrades to each weapon stashed in the various dungeons too, allowing you to unleash a handy secondary attack that adds some optional offence if you manage to find them. There isn’t anything especially groundbreaking about any of the weapons or items though, and it often feels like each new item makes the previous one defunct, which is a bit of a shame.
And the weapon upgrades are only tip of the discretionary iceberg, as there’s a fair number of optional elements to UnderDungeon if you’re willing to go looking for them. There are secret rooms strewn throughout every level and all manner of random items that you can collect and trade in to help out other characters throughout the game. Some of these optional elements are a little out of left field, and as part of such a playful world, don’t exactly lend themselves to logical completion – they’re certainly fun when you stumble across them, but I didn’t feel a drive to replay the game in order to find all of the secrets and achievements.
Just a quick peek at the screenshots will show you that UnderDungeon has a pretty unique visual style, harkening back to the days of the Commodore64 or the ZX Spectrum. I found the black and white 1-bit sprites utterly charming, and they immediately reminded me of my earliest memories of gaming. Obviously, this graphics style doesn’t especially lend itself to detail, and there are a few elements that are tricky to discern, but I think that the overall look great, and one that will strike a deep chord with older players and retro aficionados. Of course, there’s a good portion of the modern audience who may turn their nose up at the throwback visual style, and no amount of reminiscing from me will help in that regard, but for those who favour a simple but consistent style over the ultra-polished look, UnderDungeon does a great job.
While the action sounds have a simplicity in keeping with the visual style, the music of UnderDungeon is wonderful, and each new area is introduced with a fresh track that underpins the theme and mood of the locale incredibly well. From the corporate jazz of the Unlimited Distribution offices, to the sombreness of the haunted estate or the frantic Super Meat Boy-esque boss theme, I enjoyed every single piece of music put together for UnderDungeon.
With the visuals and sound scoring major points with me, it’s a bit of a downer that the gameplay is, for the most part, a rinse and repeat affair. Yes, it’s enjoyable enough to trawl through the forests and the mines, bash the 1-bit enemies and see off a usually chunky and fun boss, but there’s little to really get your blood pumping with excitement. In what feels like a pretty overt (and successful) homage to Undertale, there are a couple of moments where the in-game plot is played out through a fun mini game or style change, and these helped break up the standard gameplay nicely whilst also enhancing the playful nature of the story and game as a whole. My favourite sidebar was the prison break scene, when Kimuto gains the ability to turn into a mouse, and you have to help navigate him through a series of tunnels in throwback 3D x 2D ‘first-person shooter’ scenes. The mouse scenes are fantastic, both stylistically and visually, and put a huge smile on my face as I scurried around within the walls.
UnderDungeon is a fun, if by-the-numbers dungeon crawler with a cool throwback aesthetic and well produced soundtrack. A wacky cast of characters offers a playful amble through a fun black and white world in a way that doesn’t overstay its welcome, parlaying its short run time into a short fun time. Inspired by the timeless appeal of The Legend of Zelda and the zaniness of that modern classic Undertale, UnderDungeon does a good job of offering a nod to both titles while missing the originality that made each so beloved. That said, imitation is the greatest form of flattery and UnderDungeon is a fun way to wile away a few hours.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.
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