Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Hello and welcome back friends, to another episode of “pray to RNJesus”, where your prayer gets thrown back in your face like a wet slug. Today’s offering to the Goddess of random coin flips is Undermine, a randomly generated rogue-like where your digging through a mine to try and find the source of the mysterious earthquakes that have been shaking the mine.
In Undermine you play as a peasant, or legion of peasants, I suppose, trying to fight your way through the archmage’s mine in order to discover and prevent the aforementioned earthquakes. Armed with only your pickaxe, a sack for collecting gold, and your peasant garb, off you delve into the mine to throw your life away for some gold nuggets and an awful boss. And throw your life away you shall, many, MANY times. But fear not, for your death will help your successors, as your handy canary outlives you to return a portion of the gold you’ve collected to the surface to help the future peasants.
Like many a good roguelike, every delve into the mine of death produces randomly generated terrain, rife with enemies, chests, and potentially helpful characters and shops. As you explore the mine, you may come across people in need. Help them, and they will set up shop at the top of the mine, before you start your delve. This way you can purchase permanent upgrades, passive skills, or bonus relics to help you in your delving. While delving the mine, you can swing your pickaxe at enemies, throw it like a boomerang, drop bombs, if you have them, and jump around to avoid attacks.
This is about all you’ve really got, and it’s all you should need. Chances are you’ll pick up rather quickly which enemies you don’t want to be anywhere close to, and which enemies you can comfortably smack in the face. Along the way you will discover chests and relics. Chests may contain a number of items, such as: gold, bombs, keys for locks, and possibly relics. Be wary though, as there are also cursed chests, that can be opened at the cost of you taking on a curse.
So what are these relics and curses? Well, your 2D top down dungeon crawling adventure would get a little stale if you didn’t get any upgrades or anything along the way, right? Well, that’s where relics come in. Having possible effects such as “chance to poison on hit” or “not hindered by oil”, or “increased throwing speed”, these relics are what give a little more uniqueness to the game. There are plenty of relics, and curses are basically the “opposite” of relics, giving you a detriment instead of a bonus. You’ll probably see curses building up either through opening cursed chests or from making deals with the devil. The curses can stack by the way, so don’t think you can get away with opening a curse chest and not “actually” getting another curse.
As you progress further down the mine, you will discover it is separated into strata, with each strata consisting of a series of rooms per floor laid out in the style of Binding of Isaac, or similar to how you see older Legend of Zelda dungeon minimaps. You can get a sneak preview of what might be in the rooms adjacent to the room you are in on the minimap, indicating if there is a boss, shop, object of interest, relic, or something else important. On each floor is a pit you can jump in to head down to the next floor. At the end of a stratum you will find a boss awaiting you. Challenge your foe, and come out on top in order to unlock the next stratum! But fear not for subsequent runs, as you don’t need to re-defeat the bosses, as they remain defeated and the next area is still unlocked. You can also fast travel to the start of strata you’ve unlocked, but I preferred going through them again in order to find useful relics. Or 7 cursed chests in, like, three floors. That also happens. Bleh.
But I digress, while you’re probably well aware of how awful my luck is by this point, you’re here for content, not mockery. I am pleased to say that Undermine, as a roguelike, is very reasonable, if not cruel. Not once did I encounter something I couldn’t deal with either through getting gud or laying down a carpet of bombs and running around screaming. The plus side is that those bombs might discover hidden rooms. Occasionally you may see a shimmer on the walls of one of the rooms you are in. If this isn’t gold embedded in the wall, it may be a hidden route to a room not on your map.
Usually there is something interesting in these rooms: possibly a relic or a lot of money. Sometimes it’s a dud with nothing in it, but that’s all part of the adventure. Speaking of gold on walls, Undermine has a really interesting concept on currency. Basically, as you explore you will come across statues and area walls with gold in them. Smack it a few times and the gold comes flying out. Make sure you pick it up quickly though, as there are little slime buggers that come in and steal your cash if you aren’t quick enough. A good smack will drive them away, but it’s the principle of the matter.
I am pleased to say that the soundtrack was a good choice for Undermine. One thing you pick up playing games where you are forced to run through the same areas over and over is what music you really don’t want looping through your head for the next 8 hours. Undermine has a solid score in that sense, with some fairly catchy but unobtrusive tracks to travel to. Another positive in Undermine’s favour is the fact that the graphics are pretty good. There isn’t anything super fancy, but it doesn’t get cluttered, it’s pretty much always easy enough to see your character and what’s going on.
Overall Undermine is a really good roguelike with a lot of well implemented mechanics. Is it breaking any molds? Not really, but the implementation was well done. The environments are large enough that you don’t feel guided, but stages are small enough that you don’t start getting frustrated being in the same location. There are plenty of randomized power boosts, and the upgrade system is pretty fair about when you need upgrades vs. How much they cost.
While my luck may have screwed me over, there wasn’t a design choice that did. I was really pleased with Undermine as a roguelike, and with the shorter nature of the stages, it lends itself really well to the Switch and its portable nature.Score: 8.25 / 10