Game Review #521: Underhero (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Allan Jenks
Developer: Paper Castle Games
Category: Platformer, Action, Adventure, RPG
Release Date: 2.13.2020
Buy Underhero from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
When I Was a Kid, You Took the Story You Were Given, and You Liked It!
Back in the days of NES and Master System, games were typically much more focused on gameplay than the actual story. Generally, any story element that got any sort of explanation came from the instruction manual rather than the actual gameplay, and it was typically not a horribly deep storyline, just enough to loosely cover why your character needed to move from level to level in the first place—and the story was usually some re-skin of the same basic hero plot where the fated hero saves the day and thwarts the evil villain threatening the lands.
We didn’t really care about the story, we just wanted an excuse to fight some bad guys; but no one ever stopped to think about how the lowly minion’s day was going. Mad at that goon for making you use all of your potions? Ever stop to think that maybe he has a quota to meet and a boss who doesn’t care that his girlfriend just dumped him? Probably not…
Bad Guys Need Love Too
There’s a whole society of “bad guys” just trying to make ends meet in an evil society that has really bad workplace safety regulations; and even though it’s pretty much written in the stars that the hero is going to win every single time, Jim is still gonna get chewed out by the boss for failing him yet again… Bob will be made an example of… it’s not easy being a goon, but somebody’s got to do it. What if, instead of working harder, you worked smarter? Well, our story starts out as described above: the fated hero is well on his way to the final boss fight, Mr. Stitches—Tim Burton would be proud of his design—when one of the masked minions has an epiphany moment and figures out how to stop the hero dead (quite literally) in his tracks without fuss.
After defeating the hero, a very surprised Mr. Stitches sends you on a delivery mission to return the late hero’s jewels back to all of the level bosses. Our masked anti-hero, less than thrilled with his new responsibilities, sets out on his delivery mission, when suddenly the magical hilt of the fallen hero’s sword decides that our man is good enough in a pinch, and tasks him with overthrowing his boss, along with all the other level bosses, to finish the mission he compromised by offing the hero. Sound interesting yet? I thought so too!
A Little Something for Everyone
Underhero is a 2-D, side-scrolling, RPG platformer that has a sort of turn-based-but-not-really battle system that even includes some rhythm elements in its quirkiness. The heart and soul of this game can’t really be pinned down to just platforming or just RPG—it’s also kind of Metroidvania, too—but each element works so seamlessly with the others that you really don’t think about it unless you are trying to describe it to someone else. It just sort of works.
The platforming is not to be taken lightly. While it is not the most difficult platforming you will encounter in the genre, it is still tricky at times, and there are many areas where you need to be very good with your timing and your precision jumps. There are also plenty of treasures to find, hidden paths to explore, and different cassette tapes to collect—these can be played in the boomboxes found at the various save stations located throughout the different worlds, changing the stations’ theme music to the selected track.
Toss a Coin to Your Minion…
On top of that, you have environmental hazards that will eat away at your HP bar, and enemies posted throughout the stages with whom you will enter into battle upon coming into contact. Here is where the game really got me interested. The game is described as “turn-based without the turns” and that is a fairly accurate description. Basically, once you enter a battle with your enemy, a battle command menu pops up, and you can either attack, block with your shield, duck, jump, use a potion or antidote, or even strike up a conversation with them—I mean, technically they are your co-workers… you’ve probably worked the same shift before! If talking doesn’t help, and the battle is not going in your favor, you can even throw a coin or two their way and hope they might just look the other way and let you go.
Different enemies have different tactics; some stay close and are easy to attack with your sword, while others stay back and float around, forcing you to use your slingshot for a ranged attack. The turn-based part comes from essentially taking turns with your foes during battle while each of you charge up your stamina bar. There are a couple of ways to charge your stamina; one way is to just wait, as it will slowly recharge just like an ATB gauge in a standard turn-based RPG, and the other way is to dodge your enemies’ attacks.
Each enemy has a tell for each of their different moves. One enemy, for example, may blink before a high attack, but stick out his tongue before a low attack. If you jump over a low attack, or duck under a high attack, you will successfully dodge that attack, which gives you an instant stamina boost. Once you have enough stamina built up, you can attack the enemy. You can continue to attack until your stamina falls too low, which causes you to run out of breath, leaving you vulnerable to attack until you are able to move again and dodge.
If you land an attack on beat with the music, you get a “Groovy” bonus, which takes more HP from the enemy. Each victory rewards you with EXP and loot, ranging from potions to coins. You level up just like most RPGs this way, and with each level up, you get to choose a stat to boost, such as max HP, attack power, or max stamina, so you really can customize your stats to how you like to play.
Visually, Underhero is great. While the graphics are a bit of a throwback to the 16-bit era, they are decorated with all the modern conveniences. The different worlds are all quite different from one another, though they all feel right together, and the bright and colorful scenery is very easy on the eyes. The soundtrack is a definite highlight as well, and all of the different tracks are great. Much of the soundtrack is upbeat and jazzy, and it sets the whimsical-yet-satirical tone quite nicely.
Overall, I came into Underhero thinking it was just another cute little indie platformer I could kill a few hours with, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and humor of the game. Everything is well thought out, and you can really tell that the developers over at Paper Castle Games really put their hearts into this game, down to every last line of dialogue. There’s even an Easter Egg room where you can talk to them in the form of NPCs. If you love action RPGs, but also love turn-based RPGs and platforming, then this is a no-brainer: get this game!
Buy Underhero from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes