A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
I am very familiar with the (J)RPG genre, so this game falls right under my territory. I have not played any of the Paper Mario games that are a direct inspiration, but for me it felt more like a Mario and Luigi RPG anyway and I’m very familiar with these. Of course, I will use said inspirations as a reference point to enforce my arguements, but the review is entirely dependent on Underhero itself and not how it compares to other games in the genre. The version I’ve played is the Steam version, and I’ve played with an Xbox 360 controller. It took me about ~10 hours to beat the game, and also obtain all achievements in the progress.
What happens if you get a game-over in a game on your journey to slay evil? Well, you restart from the last save point or reset the game obviously. But what actually happens in the world of the game you’re playing? It’s not often someone sits still to think about something like this since it’s a game, so the most obvious result would be “evil wins” or an even more obvious result: “nothing”. Underhero, an indie game by Paper Castle Games has their own take on such a situation. This of course had me interested since not a lot of games tackle this. If the hero loses in such a game on purpose, it’s usually written in the script for it to happen, and then the game continues afterwards. This game on the other hand has one answer to “What happens in the world where the destined hero is killed?”. What’s more: this game actually has a battle system inspired by the Mario RPG games! As many of you probably know, the Mario and Luigi games are some of my favourite RPGs out there due to their gameplay rewarding actual skill instead of just high numbers. This game should be a match made in heaven for me right? Well… let’s find out!
Underhero is the lovechild of the Spanish (formerly Venezuelan) indie studio Paper Castle Games, founded by Rafael Cabrera and Alvaro “Kay” Dominguez in 2014, with composer Stijn van Wakeren and artist Andie Gallo also helping out with the project. The game was in development for almost 5 years with a dedicated fanbase to encourage this hard working team of game enthusiasts. With a succesful Steam Greenlight, Underhero was released upon the world in 2018 to an overal positive reception. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a lot of trivia browsing through Google, Tumblr and the like, so I hope I’m able to satisfy you today with the Greenlight trailer of the game! I specifically wanted to mention this trailer, as the battle system has changed drastically up till release. I couldn’t find a lot of information about the indie studio’s future plans either, though the composer is currently working on his own 3D Platformer called Here Comes Niko!
The game starts with the hero (who has grinded way too much since he’s level 9999) being on his way to defeat the ultimate evil for the 420th time. Same old, but then a plot twist happens: the hero gets murdered by a chandelier, dropped by insignificant enemy mob number 729! Must suck after you’ve grinded so much just to be killed by a chandelier of all things. This means evil wins now right? Well yes… but Underhero‘s plot is a more humorous one from first glance so instead of taking over the world and killing all humans, it is up to our now-named mob to reset the cycle and make sure the next hero is able to gather all necessary items to challenge the ultimate evil again. I was initially slightly bummed out that the story didn’t turn into one where evil would take over the world and succeeded, but I also found this to be a very fun- and different plot. It later evolves into a way bigger story than originally suspected, which I will come back to at the end of the review in a spoiler section.
Given the premise of the story, it should come as no surprise that the game is oozing with humour, 4th-wall breaks and a dose of charm. I constantly had a smile on my face talking to all the other monsters and what nonsense they were able to produce, or events that happened like a tree being filled with alcohol after a moth with a split-personality syndrome accidentally released the pressure on a brewer barrel. All monsters can even be talked to before you go into battle, adding to the overall charm the game has. Sometimes they offer handy advice, and at other times they just talk about whatever comes up in their mind. Add a cutesy art style to that with expressive monster designs and we have a game that nails the personality department.
After strolling a bit through the castle, it’s time to go to the first world. This is a good time to talk about how you’ll be moving through the game since it’s half of what you’ll be doing, but at the same time not the main gameplay attraction. There is a lot of platforming, but it’s very basic at its core. Most of what you’ll be doing instead is puzzle-solving or going through world-unique gimmick like underwater whirlpools that launch you forward like a speeding hedgehog who doesn’t have to worry about running out of breath. I have no issue with the platforming itself being this basic since it’s just a means to get around. It could potentially be better if there was some sort of upgrade that makes you dash much faster for backtracking, but I also don’t feel that revisiting places happens too often to make it a necessity. I mean, there’s literally a part where you’re requested to gather someone from a place you’ve just been at 5 minutes ago, but then you leave the room and that someone has already arrived. The developers make fun of backtracking; they know what they’re doing. That said, I do feel the main protagonist controls a bit… clunky at times. Grabbing vines- or ropes is something I particularly didn’t enjoy, and sometimes the character also moved a bit further than I intended due to them not having a lot of weight. Nothing that has caused me deaths or anything, but it was annoying at sections where I had to jump from one vine to the other.
The developers make fun of backtracking; they know what they’re doing.
Quickly after exiting the cave from the first world, the main dish of the game is introduced: the combat system. The easiest way to describe this system is to mentioned one of the direct inspirations: the Mario and Luigi RPG games. What’s noticeable right from that start however is that unlike the inspiration, Underhero is not turn-based. This gameplay style is replaced by a stamina meter that limits the number of times you can attack, which is refilled by standing still or skillfully dodging enemies’ attacks. Don’t worry, I’ll describe how all of this works- and feels one by one, but the main idea here is that we have a familiar- yet different battle system here that rewards the player for their skill and memorization.
What you’re immediately taught is, of course, to attack. At first, you only have access to a sword attack which is a quick slash at the enemy that can also be charged up at the risk of leaving yourself open. A good balance of risk versus reward, as also shown with one of the other weapons you get: the hammer. This one takes a long time to charge up and will consume more stamina than the sword, but will do far more damage as a compromise. Using it is also a good way to start a battle with since enemies don’t attack you unless you’ve attacked them. I’m really a big fan of this combat system as you don’t have to only concentrate on the patterns of enemies, but also on the amount of stamina you have left. You can’t perform any defensive abilities while your stamina is rock-bottom, so you can’t just mindlessly attack- and dodge however you please. And hey, if you want even more skilful gameplay: you will do more damage if your attack hits on the beat of the music! Finally, there’s a third weapon being the slingshot for enemies out of reach. I like the concept of it, but it felt a bit clunky to me to aim. Could very well be my controller as I’m a gamer known for destroying them, but I wasn’t really a fan of it as a result. The aim often went down for example while I wasn’t moving the stick, or just barely. Doesn’t really make the gameplay worse overall though, but I had to mention it regardless.
Defending is also something you should be familiar with if you know how the battle systems of the Mario and Luigi games work. An enemy gives a specific indication, and then it’s up to you to jump or get down. The enemies do give clear indications on what attack they’re going to use but for some enemies, it is a bit tougher to know what they are about to do exactly for the first time. Blinking with the left eye doesn’t indicate whether I should jump or not after all. But if all else fails, there’s always the third defensive option: an actual shield. Not only does this defend you against all attacks, but you’ll even stun the enemy if you use it right before their attack lands. This yet again encourages skilful play, as your shield has a health bar that will deplete if it’s used when not parrying. Overall I’m a huge fan of risk-versus-reward battle systems like these that encourage skilful play, and Underhero also nails this department. If there’s one improvement I could probably think of, it would be a more diverse cast of enemies. The lizard enemy appears pretty frequently for example and since they are also the tutorial enemy, it becomes old fast.
Overall I’m a huge fan of risk-versus-reward battle systems like these that encourages skillful play, and Underhero also nails this department.
If you don’t want to fight the enemy–and lose out on experience since they won’t be challengeable again, you can always throw some money in their face and become buddy-buddy with them. Money is how you get friends after all, hence why I have no friends as I’m a massive scrooge #deep #mood #dontworryIamsarcastic. Though it is addressed a few times in the plot as you’re technically murdering your brethren, there is no actual alignment system here for “sparing” them. Underhero might share the first 5 letters with another game that does just that, but I’m perfectly fine with this game not combining their gameplay with an alignment system. Here, it’s more up to the player and the in-game protagonist if they should feel bad about their crusade, or if they love slaughtering experience meat bags.
As stated, haggling with an enemy does mean missing out on experience. Every enemy is unique, and there is no way to farm for experience as far as I’m aware. It wasn’t much of an issue for me, but it’s something to keep in mind if you have trouble with a game like this. Every level gives you the option to increase your HP, damage output or stamina meter length. That said, there are more than enough upgrades to obtain outside of just levelling. There are a lot of not-so-secret “secrets” to find on your journey, a shop for upgrades and also a lot of minigames- and sidequests to take part in of which some also reward you with more upgrades. The first one is a bit of sarcasm from me since most aren’t really that hidden but they are still secrets in every sense of the word. The minigames are pretty fun though; they all feel different and don’t slow the pace of the game down. Most technically don’t even have to be beaten unless you want the best rewards and achievements so even for those who hate minigames, several of them are ignorable.
Which brings me nicely to the bosses which almost feel like they are a minigame on their own. Instead of just going into battle and dodging powerful attacks, they’re a mix of platforming challenges and even puzzles. The actual combat itself is pretty boring since most of them are in a stunned state when combat engages, but the platforming and puzzle-solving are pretty fun. Especially the bosses towards the latter half of the game felt very fun to fight because they used completely new mechanics, which in turn brings me nicely to the spoiler section of the review. I’m really nailing the segues today huh. The review pretty much ends here so feel free to skip immediately to the verdict. What I can say though, is that the latter half of the game is very, very good. It made my overall great impression of the game even better.
So yeah, the game being fourth-wall-breaking and stuff? It should come as no surprise that this plot is very much a meta-driven one. You resetting the hero cycle? It obviously makes you feel like you’re setting up a game again for the next players, but it happens in-game due to the “system” pretty much forcing the villain to have this cycle go on forever. If he doesn’t, the world will end which directly translates to “the game ceasing to execute its function”. The best part is that this is all mere speculation by your favourite Nepiki himself, as the final section is more food for thought than directly stating the purpose for continuing this cycle. And the best part is that you actually end up fighting “the system” itself, which includes an epic boss battle that takes place in 3D while being on a 2D plane. The whole finale is epic with the multi-phased boss fight against Mr. Stitches–which even has a horror-themed phase. Truly a finale that I will remember and one that definitely doesn’t feel out of place with the game.
Underhero came to an interesting conclusion to the question “what happens if the hero dies?”. The plot was booming with personality, having a ton of humorous characters and a whole lot of charm to it. But it doesn’t just nail the personality department, but also the overall battle system–which is very important in an RPG to me. Taking a note from the Mario RPGs but making it action-based instead was definitely something I could get behind and just like those battle systems, skilful play is rewarded in spades. There’s a good amount of different weapons- and defensive options to take against the rather small-sized pool of enemies, which I would say is one of the low points of the game but not one that really hurt the overall fun I had. Add to that fun boss battles, good enough platforming and a bunch of fun minigames and you got a game that you definitely shouldn’t miss out on.
- Great sense of humour with a ton of charm.
- Interesting concept for a plot that sticks with it till the end.
- Rewarding and skilful gameplay.
- Relatively small pool of enemies.
- The game can be a bit clunky at times.
Thank you for reading! Underhero was a very pleasant surprise for me, and I highly encourage my readers who are into this sort of genre to give the game a chance as well. Though it didn’t perform too badly overall, it’s a shame the game never truly reached the heights it deserves. But hey, that’s what I’m trying to fix after all by giving lovely games such as these the attention they need! I beat this game in I believe two days total because I had so much fun with it as the review indicated. I’m also planning to do a haggle-only playthrough in the future just to see if anything changes, but that’s something for another day.
The next review will be about a special game: a combination of a bullet-hell shmup and… a typing game? I must have gotten your attention for sure with that. See you next time!
What is your favourite battle system in a (J)RPG? Can be anything from turn-based, to tactical/strategy and even action battle systems!
My favourite battle system ever comes from Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It has been a very long while since I last played the game, but the action was overall very good and it rewarded skill with quickly-timed evades. It felt very good to play, which in turn also makes it one of my favourite JRPGs despite not having the best story. Also, an honourable mention to Tales of Graces F which is in concept pretty similar, but still a little more restricted.