Developer: Wired Dreams Studio
Release Date: July 13, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Wired Dreams Studio
Genre: Adventure Strategy
Undergrave takes a tactical approach to the Roguelike genre, with varying degrees of success. Developed by Wired Dreams Studio, Undergrave has you playing as a nameless knight trudging through a series of randomly generated rooms, battling the monsters within in tactical tile-based combat. Combat is similar to another of their games, Red Ronin, but lacks the visual flair and cohesion that game had.
As with most Roguelikes, Undergrave is all about combat. However, unlike other games in the genre, Undergrave is played entirely with a sword, with no other weapons to pick from. To make up for this, there are various options of attack. You can dash through enemies, jump on them, throw your sword at them, or just bump into them to attack.
Each attack has its own range and costs a different amount of AP to use. The beginning of every attempt has you with 8 HP and 8 AP, with you taking 1 damage every time you get hit and gaining 1 AP for every move you make. All of this is fine, except the game doesn’t give you a tutorial to explain the simple mechanics of their system or the rules of combat.
Enemy units move a space for every space you move, with some enemies even moving 2 or more spaces. The first rule that is very important to know is that spaces next to enemies are always their damage zones, and they get priority to hurt you. If you’ve played other tactical RPGs, you might try to move next to an enemy to attack them, but they will always damage you first, making the bump attack a last resort. This makes your abilities your only real avenue of attack, but again, the game never teaches you the rules of each attack.
Throwing the sword has good range but will obviously leave you without a weapon until you pick it back up. You can either stand on the same tile as the sword to pick it up or dash through the sword to pick it up, ending the dash in an attack. You can also jump to your sword, which will also result in the jump ending in an attack. If you are unarmed, your available skills cost less, making throwing your sword a good combo opening.
This is fine, but as I said before, the game never teaches you these things. They also never teach you that jumping to the space next to enemies stuns them. Doing so isn’t rational since normally touching the panel next to enemies would only damage you. This is Undergrave’s most significant issue; the rules are never stated and are not clear. This isn’t a problem for normal games, but for tactical games with unique rules, it’s essential to know the rules of combat, and the game doesn’t teach them to you.
Stage design is simple, with randomly generated enemy and object placement. Visually, they are dull, without much color or depth to the room layouts or designs. The number and types of enemies are also random, creating various combat situations. After four combat rooms, you enter an item room to choose an upgrade or heal. The 2nd most significant issue with Undergrave is that you can only heal in these rooms, but doing so will give up an upgrade that could improve your odds in the coming rooms.
The upgrades are decently interesting, from decreasing action costs to allowing you to throw your weapon through walls or extending your range. However, losing an upgrade to having to heal is pretty annoying and would be improved by enemies dropping health. They already drop green orbs, which build a gauge that, when used, restores your AP to allow for more combos, but adding a simple HP+1 or two orbs would make a world of difference.
After clearing several rooms, you are brought to a boss fight. Unfortunately, I only fought one boss in my time with Undergrave, and the fight was underwhelming, simply spawning more and more enemies to fight me as his health dropped without attacking me himself. While I’m sure there are other bosses, they definitely didn’t leave a good impression. After clearing a boss, you unlock a new series of rooms with new enemies to fight, but the layouts never get very interesting.
Undergrave sports a concept that is interesting on the surface and combat that is done competently, but the lack of teaching and boring room design puts it behind games like Necrodancer in terms of quality. While not a bad romp to play, it doesn’t offer much to make me want to return to it. I didn’t completely hate my time with Undergrave, but I wish it had given more care to teach me how to play it.
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