Heigh ho! Heigh ho! To the UnderMine we go! With sharp pickaxe and scores of rats, heigh ho! Heigh ho!
The latest run-based action game to dig its way onto the Switch eShop is UnderMine, a subterranean adventure that draws inspiration from the 2D Zelda games. Although the experience will be familiar to roguelite fans, the presentation and gameplay are polished to a shine, making this one of the more noteworthy genre entries available on Nintendo's current platform. The boss fights, search for gold, and smart progression features lend the proceedings a satisfying flair that is sure to make players yearn for just one more deep dive into the mines.
The premise is that you are a miner/adventurer who is tasked with uncovering the secrets of a monster-infested, gold-filled, secret-laden cavern known as the Undermine. The game opens with the hero falling into a barren room and being summoned to an adjoining one by a curiously-tall wizard, who entrusts you with plunging into the Undermine to rescue trapped peasants and discover the reasons behind its existence and the chaos it has wrought. As you free prisoners from the depths, they set up shop above ground where every run starts, allowing you to spend your hard-earned horde on a variety of upgrades. Similar to Rogue Legacy and other titles in the genre, defeated heroes pass on their stats and a portion of their gold to the next man or woman up, ensuring a steady character progression and a greater chance of success with each run.
Within the Undermine proper, players can swing or throw their pickaxe to subdue all sorts of minor enemies, from bats and bouncing blobs to knights and witches. As dangerous as any of these can be, every screen on a given floor can present its own hazards, like pits, fire traps, and rotating saw blades. The combination of dodging danger on the floor in addition to evading and attacking enemies culminates in an enjoyable but challenging task. Fortunately, a jump ability allows you to cross gaps and keep away from harm, but that particular mechanic does feel a little floaty compared to normal movement. The pickaxe is also the only weapon you get, even if it can be upgraded with the Blacksmith and made more effective through certain relics.
Every run features a randomized selection of areas within each section of the Undermine. Every four or five floors ends with a massive boss fight, featuring creatures that may be familiar to anyone who has played something like A Link to the Past. Collecting keys and bombs allows you to open doors to shops, where you can buy health-restoring food and perk-granting potions, and special relics that buff your characters stats or bestow new abilities. At certain spots, you can place bombs to reveal hidden rooms, some of which contain treasure chest games for those not averse to risk. You can also come across levers that cost life energy to operate but can reward you with items and loot. Different types of treasure chests appear frequently, and nearly every screen has gold to be mined from walls, boulders, and statues, but be quick: thieving slimes appear whenever gold hits the ground; collect it swiftly before they do.
If your character succumbs to any of the Undermine’s dangers, their accumulated relics and items are lost to the dungeon, but a percentage of their gold is given to the next adventurer for the beginning of their fresh run. Rescuing the Blacksmith opens up his shop, where you can upgrade your pickaxe’s melee or throw damage, pay to decrease the amount of gold lost upon death, or boost your total health. The Blacksmith can also craft from recipes you bring him to unlock new relics to discover in the Undermine. The shops that are found down below are owned by a giant slime creature, and paying to join their loyalty club opens up options for improving their stock every time you pop into a new shop.
The gorgeous pixel art truly brings to life the Undermine and every living thing within it. The color and lighting help every screen come alive, and the visual presentation adds significantly to the enjoyment of the game. The gameplay loop is an addictive one, which is the hallmark of a strong roguelite; even through routine failure I couldn’t stop thinking about my next deep dive into the mines. The random elements render some runs almost doomed to fail before they begin, but the progression system in place here means you’ll almost always come out ahead even during a shorter run; spend your gold to improve and set up your next character. As well, the stiff but fair difficulty make longer runs tense and exciting in equal measure. The secrets and characters you encounter truly give every attempt a unique feeling, and once you make it through the Undermine’s five areas and bosses, you unlock the Othermine, which is a true roguelike without the base game’s progression mechanics. There are dozens of hours to be spent with UnderMine, and many more if you want to complete the 96 in-game achievements and find every partner familiar, item, and potion. Without question, Thorium Entertainment has struck gold with UnderMine, and it’s a worthy addition to the Switch’s stable of rogue-ish titles.