HIGH It’s got that ‘just one more go’ quality.
LOW The slow-burn first boss.
WTF The soundtrack sounds like synth System of a Down.
Lately it seems like we’re getting a new roguelike almost daily and genre burnout is real, but hear me out — Undermine, developed by Thorium, is one of the cracking ones.
The premise is that evil demons have appeared and it’s down to the player as a nameless, disposable peasant (alongside their trusty familiar) to help a wizard quell them. Each time the peasant dies they’re replaced by another, much to the amusement of the cast of permanent characters.
Gameplay-wise, Undermine is an action-adventure roguelike seen from a top-down 2D view featuring 16-bit aesthetics. The dungeons are split into biomes, with between 3-5 floors per biome and a boss section.
Dungeon floors consist of rooms that are roughly the size of one screen. The player must use their trusty pickaxe to hack their way through while fighting procedurally generated enemies. They’ll also be picking up keys, bombs, gold, potions, blessings (offering various positive effects) and sometimes curses with assorted negative effects.
The player will also pick up relics which introduce abilities such as making bombs generate gold on explosion, or making the pickaxe electrocute enemies.
Upon a peasant’s death, a percentage of their accumulated gold is lost, but the remaining amount can be spent on permanently extending certain statistics — damage, health, potion duration, etc. — to increase the chances of success on future runs.
Engaging in combat and exploration on a run is gratifying in and of itself, but learning what things to focus on and cultivating a build gives Undermine a good set of long-term of goals on each run. For example, one boss demands ranged attacks, but instead of chucking my pickaxe I had some fortuitous drops that gave me a bomb relic with massive range which gave me an edge by allowing me to approach the fight in a different manner.
Of special note are nuances in Undermine‘s systems, and also the way risk is rewarded. A good example of the first is that enemies will occasionally drop food that regenerates health. However, if fire happens to touch the food, it will cook it and the item will heal more health. The chances of this happening organically are rare, but when it does, it shows the care taken in creating the world’s potential interactions.
In a second example showcasing risk, it can be seen with keys and bombs. Too many roguelikes get disposable items wrong, since using one in a random circumstance feels wasteful, and only worth it when there’s an absolute guarantee of reward. Undermine wants the player to explore these items and has an uncanny knack of giving the player back at least one bomb or key when one has just been used. This encouraged me to take risks, and the result is that I was often rewarded, seldom punished.
My only criticism has to do with the first boss — it’s a bit of a chore. It took me many runs to get past it, and each time I reached it, I was doing chip damage to this fast-moving enemy who has large portions of its body immune to damage. However, once past it, the flow of Undermine picks up and joy comes from powering up a peasant to the point where they’re destroying traps by stepping on them, walking on air and killing enemies with hardly any effort.
Despite so many good roguelikes already out or due soon, Undermine is still one that’s worth spending time with — this is a stellar debut from its developers.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Thorium Entertainment. It’s currently available on XBO, PC, Switch, Linux, and Mac. This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 33 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10 and contains Fantasy Violence, Alcohol Reference. The game is very lighthearted — there are a couple of scary monsters and spooky dungeons, but overall, it is acceptable even for pre-teens.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is playable without sound. However, leveling-up cues might be missed as the text is only onscreen for a split second. Text size cannot be altered, nor can the color be changed.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.