by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
UnderMine stands out as an enjoyable, challenging roguelite. Roguelites offer at least a little bit of mercy: while you start back at the beginning if you die, you do get to keep some of your gold. In UnderMine, players control a never-ending supply of peasants. Armed with a pickaxe, you delve into the mines at the whim of a powerful wizard. Thanks to a series of phylacteries, an evil force has achieved immortality, and it’s up to you to stop him. No matter how many peasants have to die in this quest, it’s a risk our masters are willing to take. There is no escape: you dig until you die.
As in most roguelikes, you’re given no real direction or tutorial. You are immediately thrust into the mines at the start of the game, tasked with mining for gold and fighting monsters. When you die down in the UnderMines, you lose a large percentage of your gold. Any relics you acquired also disappear. You will eventually rescue a Blacksmith, who will give you ways to improve your survivability. You can buy upgrades for your health, damage (ranged and melee), and throw range. The Blacksmith can also craft items from Blacksmithing Plans. These plans are single-use, and the items made will only last for a single run into the mine. You receive a fair amount of them, however, so don’t be afraid to make use of them. You can also have potions crafted for you, and even the Archmage gets in on the act. As your gear upgrades, he’ll offer to sell a few items that will persist beyond death.
This means grinding is essential. There are lots of different ways to play, but one of the most important upgrades you can get is the Goldsack. When you die, you lose about half of the gold you acquired. Upgrading your Goldsack will decrease the amount of gold you lose upon death. In my current playthrough, I’m at 70% Gold Integrity, which makes grinding a lot easier. Once I had that, I focused on upgrading my damage and health, but not my thrown weapon. I don’t throw my pickaxe except to nail weak enemies, but that’s personal preference. The desire to retain as much gold as possible on death drove my every decision. I rarely buy shop items as those potions and keys don’t persist on death. The only thing I purchase is health items because you take so much damage in the early game.
I like that the playable character is not a legendary hero or an immortal badass; you are a peasant, a nobody. When this character dies, another peasant will take their place. That’s pretty dark, but it also tells a fascinating story. The character’s names are random, but they all look the same. I was hoping to see more differences in the peasant you control, but that’s fine.
The gameplay loop is very simple: Dive into the mines, go through a series of floors, and fight a boss – if you don’t die along the way. I have yet to reach the deepest parts of the mine, but it seems that escape is impossible. The floors are procedurally generated, and the early game loop is usually four floors followed by a boss. There are hidden rooms, huge monsters, traps, fires, copious enemies, and hidden secrets. There are tiles that fire flaming arrows, and burrows that spit out hordes of rats. If that wasn’t enough, there are chests that spit out bombs!
When gold hits the ground, cute little creatures will show up. Their goal is to steal your gold and run off with it. One good thwack will stop them though. If they get to the edge of the screen with a piece of gold, it’s gone forever. Enemies don’t drop gold, however, unless you have a specific rare relic. Gold deposits and veins will be your primary source of income. There is one more way you can lose money in this game other than through death. There’s a character that pops up in hidden rooms who will offer a variety of Mini-Games to play. In theory, you win gold or other items. It’s expensive and risky, so I avoid them like the plague. After 10-15 hours, I’ve yet to win a single thing from her, so I’m certain she’s rigging these games.
Your only real weapon in this adventure is your trusty Pickaxe. You can swing it in front of you, and throw like a boomerang. You also can pick up bombs, which you use to break certain rocks. You can weaponize bombs, but it’s not their primary purpose. While the Pickaxe is your only weapon, Relics are the next best thing. Relics are special items that leave you when you die. They have so many different effects and can change your whole approach to the game. Relics appear in rooms marked with a treasure chest, but some merchants also sell them at very high prices. Unfortunately, these are random, but some of these relics are remarkable. My favorite is arguably the “Sewing Kit”, which prevents you from losing gold on death. There isn’t anything more useful.
There are relics that make gold explode when it hits the ground and relics that alter what your bombs do. You can enhance your life total, and so much more. Always take the time to get them when they show up on your mini-map. None of the relics have negative consequences, but they might not fit the build you are going for! For example, you can only have one Bomb Relic equipped at once.
There are Blessings/Curses in the mines, and Curses will hurt you. You can find secret rooms with shrines in them. Praying on these can give you a Blessing and a Curse. The curses are serious damn business. I found one that cut my HP from 300 down to about 140, and every single room was a heart attack waiting to happen. Losing extra gold is another terrifying curse. But the blessings are just as good, so take heart. There are potions that remove curses and blessings, so bear that in mind.
Danger In the Mines:
Attention to detail can manifest in ways that make the game difficult, but can also be turned to your advantage. For example, Oil on the ground prevents you from jumping. If a normal Glomp (slime) slops down into that oil, it becomes an Oil Glomp. If you get that oil ablaze, while it can hurt you, it also hurts any enemy that finds itself in the oil.
There are plenty of ways to get fire on the ground, including fire attacks granted by relics or the breaking of a red crystal. These shower the ground in fire, but also enhance your attacks with fire for a limited time. There’s a lightning version as well that can chain lightning, or electrify puddles of water. If you get set on fire, jump into a puddle of water.
Each enemy has its own pattern to watch out for. Learning what enemies can or cannot do is key to success. Rats tend to charge up their strike so you can hit them, back off, and wait for them to come at you. Glomps leap super high and try to crash down on you, so you can move a step away and slash them.
A Never-Ending Cycle: 4/5 (Great)
UnderMine‘s story is enjoyable, and the gameplay loop is difficult without being too frustrating. It is aggravating at the start, but that’s all roguelikes. I’m not as big a fan of “you must defeat all enemies in a room to proceed” mechanics, especially when there are so many enemies with hard to dodge mechanics. You learn how to deal these over time, but the new-player experience can be frustrating. It is rewarding to get the tactics of enemies down, but the RNG does make some dungeon runs unwinnable. That comes down to how bad you want to gamble on a blessing or curse though. The visuals are sharp, and the enemies look a mixture of adorable and horrifying. There’s plenty of content here for the price point.
I did encounter a bug that almost made me quit more than once. From what I understand the developers are aware of it, and I was playing on an earlier build. I do want to address it anyway. When I attack, my character model arbitrarily turns in the opposite direction. So you hit something, and when you go to swing again, you turn around, and they hit you instead. This has caused numberous deaths, because I was low on HP and needed to get through a room to get to relative safety.
The gameplay for UnderMine is simple, but it’s fun. It’s still challenging, and you will likely die, again and again. The high you get from success is real though. The bosses are suitably epic, and it’s common to die several times to them to learn their pattern. Thankfully, the trip back to them isn’t a horrific, tedious walk. It’s interesting that Fandom is getting into publishing, but this offering is a good one. The early game is a bit punishing, but once you’ve learned what to do (and not to do), the fun factor picks up. This game is certainly a worthy entry into one of my favorite genre of games. No matter how badly I do at them, I always come back. I’ll certainly come back to try my hand more with UnderMine.
Note: A game key was provided for review.