As long as your library isn’t already saturated with rogue-likes, UnderMine is an agreeable outing, with cute visuals, polished play, just enough persistent upgrades to reward replay.
Platform: Switch, also on PC, Xbox
Publisher: Thorium Entertainment
Release date: February 11th, 2021
Price: $19.99 via Nintendo eShop
UnderMine is best described as an action roguelike. But that descriptor doesn’t quite do the game justice. Titles as varied as The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+, Dead Cells, and Hades would all fall under that category. While UnderMine shares a few common traits with the aforementioned games, it also establishes its own identity.
The game’s procedurally generated rooms all fill a single-screen and generate a bit of deliberate uncertainty. Sometimes, you’ll enter an area without any kind of danger. Other times, the room is swarming with different types of enemies, each moving in their own distinctive manner. Sporadically, there’s elemental danger, like spinning blades travelling around minecart tracks. You’ll likely get into a habit of quickly evaluating each new room your pint-sized miner steps into.
Although you’ll employ both analog sticks on your adventure, UnderMine probably shouldn’t be shoehorned into the twin-stick category. Sure, you’ll likely use the left stick to move your stout prospector about. The right one is the key to aiming your ranged attack, which hurls a spinning pickaxe at adversaries. But you’ll primarily be using your axe as a melee weapon attack to eliminate the slimes, fireball shooting dragonflies, and the succession of tough bosses located in across each network of subterranean rooms.
What’s immediately evident is a gratifying sense of subtlety and an invitation for player experimentation. Here, the succinct tutorial is beneficial, goading you into learning the game’s mysteries on your own. It’s fairly obvious that rocks with gleaming gold can be stuck with your axe, scattering nuggets about (as well as attracting covetous slimes, determined to pick up the chunks for themselves). What’s less evident are details like the concealed gold in the wall, which can also be mined, or the cracked doorways where a Zelda-esque detonation can gain access to hidden areas. Half of the enjoyment from UnderMine is engrained in learning how the myriad of parts in the game’s ecosystem all fit together.
Like most rogue-likes, dying is a natural part of the process. Perish as you’re working your way downward and you’ll lose all the assistive pick-ups found on torch-lit alters. Following convention, these provide active and passive support, doing things like reviving a few points of health when you enter a room or intensifying your attack power for each key that’s in your possession. You’ll also lose a portion of your gold when you die. This can be dispiriting, as you use gold back at the mining camp to purchase permanent upgrades for your character.
Certainly, it’s difficult to not appreciate UnderMine’s visual charms. Employing an angled perspective on the action, the game’s sprites are endearing- from the hefty sack of gold affixed on your miner’s back to the golden canary that follows you though the mine, collecting nuggets. If you appreciate diminutive details, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the game’s minutiae. From a swirling transition between floors to the shimmering glint to indicate gold, small touches contribute to the game’s cartoonish vibe.
About the only element where UnderMine might need improvement is the soothing the balance in difficulty between subordinates and stage bosses. The latter aren’t unbearably difficult if you have an inventory of bombs. But facing them empty handed is a testing war of attrition, where your axe scrapes off miniscule amount of damage. As such, a 30-45 minute run be undone in a demoralizing defeat. Still, those who enjoy perseverance with a randomized set of tools should mine enjoyment from this one.
UnderMine was played on Switch with review code provided by the publisher.