Author Topic: Undergrave Alpha Review  (Read 4298 times)


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Undergrave Alpha Review
« on: August 16, 2017, 11:21:21 PM »

Review by Jubal

Game Type: Free Download
Genre: Roguelike RPG


Graphics rating:
Gameplay rating:
Immersion rating:
Overall rating:

An overview of what the game offers: it's a mobile/tablet roguelike, which unusually for the genre is in a fully sidescrolling style, with a completely new "map" generated for every game. The focus is on fighting enemies, done either by lobbing potions at them or hitting them with a whip, and on collecting elements to create potions of various sorts at regular potionmaking points. This game demo is a three-rating that could easily head for being a five in the future - there's a lot of promise here, though also some areas that need major work. I've played a lot of mobile and tablet games, including a lot of roguelikes, and this could be an excellent part of the genre if it can flesh out the initial start shown in the alpha.

So, the good stuff. Graphics are very nice pixel-work; it's not just them being individually good sprites, it's the fact that the whole look is very consistent and actually pretty evocative. In terms of feel it bears a bit of similarity to The Spell; dark "gritpixel", magic-powered but with a fairly raw & dingy feel to it. This is an excellent starting point, and there are other good features too. The potionmaking "recipe book" is good fun and the potions at least in theory offer a good range of tactical options (though currently this is part negated by the low likelihood of getting more than about 2 potions in your inventory at any one time). The enemies are a good range, from the pure horror (eyeballs, deathslugs) to odd goblinoid things which are really quite cute, which is a good mixture and range. The different rooms also show a decent diversity, including jumping puzzles as well as simple combat & timing stuff to do.

What holds the game back at the moment is primarily immersion. The player starts with no idea who they are or why they are running through an underground cemetery full of monsters. There are broadly two ways that a roguelike can provide immersion - one is by having a single, consistent overarching story to tie the varying levels together (as with eg Pixel Dungeon or Son of a Witch), the other is by having such a ridiculous diversity of storylines and character options that every game naturally writes a unique story (the ToME strategy). Undergrave naturally, I think, leans to the former option: the sidescrolling style massively penalises wanting to turn back on yourself and makes it more of an effort to do so, so the developers need to work in a strong overarching plotline that drives the player ever onwards into the tomb-maze. This ideally should mean that the game should be given an ending (it's possible it has one already but it's unclear and I certainly never got near it!) and certainly the player character needs to be named and given plotline motivation (or, even better - give the players some character options, including their ultimate motivation for going down). The eyes, goblinoids, etc likewise need explanation & story, ideally - the more the better.

Mechanically, the game has a few drawbacks as well. It's often unclear how and where to get certain items, and whether it's worth going for certain things - for example, not all chests are openable, which can be frustrating if one has just fought a bunch of death-slugs to get to one. The potion book has some great options in but also feels oddly limited, and on some runs you simply don't find the right combinations of items to make potions. The main suggestion I'd make here would be a rebalance so that the player finds more ingredients but has to make more decisions about what type of potion to make. For example, instead of doing a run where you find A + B and then you get the option only of making Potion 1, it's better to let the player find A, B, and C - so they can make 1(A+B), 2(B+C), or 3(A+C). They don't get any more potions overall (indeed one could slightly decrease the quantity created), but there's a choice to be made there. This would move the game & strategy more into the player's hands; at the moment the game dictates a little too much. I'd also if possible the ability to "find" new recipes along the way which would be a great character-building mechanism, especially if there was a choice element e.g. "You can get the scroll for a better healing potion or the scroll for a high jump potion but not both". There's also more that could be done in terms of puzzle-gameplay, which the game is actually very well set up for and which I'd like to see more of, by letting the players use the potions they have in innovative ways to solve problems.

This is a promising game and reasonably fun to play through: with a better explained gameplay system, a solidly built plotline, and some mechanical changes to give the player more control and choice elements, it could be a very, very good game indeed. Certainly one to watch for the future!
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