Since starting as a reviewer here on Xbox Tavern, I’ve frequently taken a game put up for a review when it’s been unclaimed for a reasonable amount of time. I mean, everyone rushes to claim that known-about gem that’s been well-advertised and already liked on another platform, but sometimes the indie developers don’t have the budget to blast out promotional material that reaches their target audience. Generally, all we reviewers get is a link to the trailer (thanks to our Xbox Tavern Editor Jamie for taking the time to do that). As a result, sometimes I get a game that I normally wouldn’t choose (read: buy) for myself, so I’ve been playing many games recently that are outside of my wheelhouse.
When Underhero was posted, I hadn’t heard of it before. I now know that it’s been on Steam for a bit, but I’m a console gamer 99% of the time. As soon as the trailer started I knew that I was in for something great, something a little different and quirky and fun. I was able to claim it by only seconds and for that I have to apologize to my fellow reviewers, because I feel that Underhero is one of those games that can appeal to pretty much any gamer, and as you can tell I’m already presaging good things coming for the rest of this review.
What is Underhero? It’s a platformer with real time/turn based combat with elements of rhythm, puzzle solving, creative and interesting dialog with a unique premise. I might have missed an element or two from the description, but you get the picture. What’s weird is that the developer Paper Castle Games makes everything blend together into something that works very well. All of those disparate parts mesh into a seamless experience, and at the same time mix it up into a compound better than the individual pieces. I’ll briefly describe my time with the game but really want everyone reading this to get the game and experience it for themselves.
The “underhero” hero of the game is actually an accidental hero, a notch better than the typical henchman of the game’s ultimate boss, Stitches. When the actual hero comes questing for his encounter with Stitches, we get a glimpse of what henchmen do when they’re hanging around waiting for the hero to show up. They banter about being Redshirts basically, only being there to give the hero XP and to drop some loot. The third of the trio of henchmen thinks that instead of being fodder, how about they get smart and defeat him with a trap. The other two pooh-pooh that idea, they don’t see the point. On cue, the hero arrives, and those two henchmen chat with the hero. The dialog and the interaction deserves calling out, because it is very much fourth wall breaking and cliche-aware. Everyone has their role and they play it up in genuinely amusing and refreshing ways.
While the two henchmen and the hero converse, the third henchmen drops a huge chandelier on their heads, killing all three of them. Thus, our underhero is born. A magical hilt that always accompanies the hero of Chestnut Kingdom has to, for lack of better hero options, choose “the kid”, and once bound, compels the kid to become a double agent. The rest of the game – because our underhero appears as just one of the boss’s many henchman – allows a chance to converse with all of the enemies before the fights start. The enemies will also willingly discuss clues, reveal secrets, and sell items. Everything with Underhero works well. The platforming, NPC dialogue, the RPG elements (upgrading attributes, primarily), and the combat.
That last factor, the combat, is a bit atypical in that there’s more to it than button-mashing and doing the pew-pew-pew. It’s turn-based, sorta, except when you decide to go early, sacrificing a full stamina bar for a quick hit. Interrupting in that manner can also throw off the combat rhythm, and in doing so you may forego the rhythm bonus you get for hitting “on the beat” of the music. Personally, I either don’t have rhythm or suck at it, because I was only able to get a bonus accidently. Before I leave the topic of music, the music is pretty incredible. I rarely call out music in my reviews, but will do so here because it’s hard to ignore it when it’s this good. It’s performed by a composer from the Netherlands, Stijn van Wakeren, whom I don’t recognize (only because music isn’t my thing) but am calling them out for those of you that may be a fan. A few other factors worth calling out is that the game really only moves forward. There are secrets to find, but nothing requires the player to revisit an area once the mini-boss is defeated. That’s a positive for me because I generally obsess about not missing something, especially if I know that something can only be uncovered after I do or get something else.
An amazing game and a joy to play. Is Underhero perfect? No, but there’s little to dislike, and similar to the crush phase of a new relationship, the game’s faults are extremely easy to overlook. The many diverse gameplay elements of Underhero mesh well and add benefit to the game rather than retract from it. It’s charming and highly recommended.