Every so often an absolute gem is released from Early Access. UnderMine is one such game and it is truly one of the best Indie games I have played this year. It might simply be the fact that I am a sucker for a good roguelike, but the game loop in UnderMine is incredibly addicting. I enjoy a nice grind and UnderMine has polish, humor, and a large number of items to boot that keep me coming back for more. Let’s take a deeper look at what makes this such a great game.
UnderMine released on August 6th, 2020 after a successful run on Early Access from developer Thorium, and is available for $19.99 on Steam for Windows. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Linux, and Mac OS. This action-adventure roguelike with RPG elements has one of the best-designed game loops we have seen. If you enjoyed The Binding of Isaac, you will feel right at home here. Each playthrough builds off the last with a unique and thoroughly thought-out design that makes every single run feel fresh.
The Game Loop
UnderMine centers around the playable and highly disposable Miner characters that Arkanus the Archmage sends under into the mine to find out the cause of earthquakes plaguing the area. You start in a Hub area where you can progress with Relics, better weapons, armor, and more.
The art style is charming and familiar within the genre. There is an interesting story to some characters which are revealed as you progress throughout the game. Characters slowly unlock as you progress and meet the unlock conditions for many like the blacksmith that can craft some relics for a run. Just like in our world, working a mine today is a very dangerous job in UnderMine.
Some items and combinations of them make you feel like you are breaking the game. Fans of roguelikes often play these games to find these setups and the feeling it brings is an art that is rarely perfected. The developers of UnderMine masterfully pulled this off. This is intentional in the design of the game, and even with what may seem like an overpowered setup – you can quickly fail if you are not careful. UnderMine has such wild combinations you can do, like becoming insanely rich with gold in a single run or feeling unstoppable with massive damage numbers with every swing of the pickaxe. But the opposite is also true with self-imposed Hexes from an unlockable vendor or minor & major Curses that you can get on every run.
Curses come in small and major forms that, for example, can give you no crit chance + less swing damage + less throw damage for an item that gives you a chance to block all damage one time at the start of each room. A worthy trade? You decide. These combos are fresh with each run, and once you have enough upgrades, the game can quickly become addicting.
Equipped with a pickaxe at the start you can feel fragile, but each floor in UnderMine has at least one relic or an item to buy with your hard-earned gold. You also gain bombs, keys, blessings, and curses. Trial and error is really the only way to develop some skill in UnderMine and I never had a boring run. The risk-reward factor is high and each choice can have various consequences or lead to success.
Death comes from a large number of enemies and obstacles in the mine. Death is not final in UnderMine as you are able to retain unlocks and some resources from your failed or successful runs. The mine is filled to the brim with enemies, but death allows you to take gold back up for new gear, and your “familiar” – a buddy character – can also take some of your resources back up to be used for upgrades. While you start fragile, it is possible with a high amount of skill to not feel crippled and phased-out of completing a floor because you may be a little under-leveled or lack upgrades.
Progression and Gameplay
When you die in UnderMine, your disposable miner is replaced and you come back as a random new miner but with some of the resources maintained throughout the run. In this way, death feels like less of a full restart, and instead, it feels like a fresh start with newly crafted relics or upgrades that your previously found resources allow you to obtain. Replayability skyrockets because death brings with it the thought that just one more upgrade may turn the tide in your favor for the next run.
For example, you can get random drops of food that heal you, but this food can also poison you – a slow death. Some players may be skilled enough to take this risk, but removing this curse may never happen on a run – depending on your luck.
Success often comes down to finding the right mix of offense and defense. UnderMine is simple – you go from room to room with a pickaxe you can swing or throw at enemies. Where UnderMine goes from normal to insane gameplay are from the relics, curses, and upgrades you find along the way. You can become incredibly powerful really fast in UnderMine, but this also makes you more susceptible depending on the choices you have made. For instance, you can get an item that will allow gold you mine to fall onto the ground in an explosion which is great! Yet another allows your pickaxe to throw lightning with every hit – electrifying the water that can now damage you. You may quickly pay the price with your health in a lot of areas in a matter of seconds.
Permanent progression occurs after death with any salvaged resources with the blacksmith and other vendors in the main hub. Without spoiling too much, you can purchase increases in health and more later in the game. The incremental upgrades are a slow grind but overall very rewarding.
Familiars can offer another level of assistance like the default Canary that will help you gather gold strewn across the floor. Others can offer offensive power to help with things like fireballs and more. Without spoiling the game, just know there are enough ways to begin runs in a variety of ways.
Some runs have lasted 5 minutes with some simple mistakes leading to a fast death, while others have been long with power increasing exponentially over time. It is hard to explain, but even upon death I felt accomplished and immediately wanted to descend again to try to get farther.
There is a victory condition with enough progress and this will come with its own rewards and unlocks. Making your way through floor after floor and beating some bosses will allow you to reap the most benefits from the game. The discovery of these rewards is well worth the grind and we would be remiss to spoil them – but you should know there is more to this game than you may initially see.
The charm of UnderMine comes from the variety and mystery you find throughout the game. There are also Green Slimes that constantly come out to try to steal your gold after it appears. Do you risk damage to try to get it from them, or do you play it safe and kill the enemies first? This is where the game becomes consistently fun and you grow in skill and power with every try, whereas in other titles you may feel crippled from the start at every run.
UnderMine is available in every resolution but scales on your widescreen to the max playable area. There are not many graphics options to choose from other than “High” or “Low” with the differences being hardly noticeable. We had no crashes and enjoyed a steady experience throughout our game sessions.
Buy, Wait, or Pass?
Facing bosses and insane numbers of enemies with limited health, you must also worry about the world as a whole with hectic gameplay, and only your skill level can save you. Do you save your bombs to get a possible blessing on the next floor, or do you see what’s behind the secret path? Should you trade your keys for more bombs? Do you take a blessing at the risk of losing out on another item later? Do you get a curse that can give you a slight boost but with the added risk of a negative effect? These are some hard choices that can make or break a run and not a single one has been the same for me.
If you enjoy roguelikes where you can gain power incrementally together with enough variety to keep you entertained – you must buy UnderMine. This is a golden game we highly recommend.