Underhero is a charming, and enthralling 2D, side scrolling platformer, but that description doesn’t fully encapsulate the game. Underhero reinvents both turn based combat and the classic hero’s journey, and creates something quite unique. First released on PC back in 2018, it makes its way to Switch, PS4 and Xbox One release this year. Sadly, it suffers from a few level design and technical difficulties that take away from the overall experience.
Underhero starts with you playing the part of the hero. It doesn’t last long though, and soon you find yourself in control of the Masked Kid that you will play as for the rest of the game. It becomes apparent from then on that something strange is going on in the Chestnut Kingdom; your evil boss, Mr. Stitches quickly releases the recently kidnapped Princess, and then sends you on an epic quest.
Not the normal bag guy modus operandi.
There are twists and turns aplenty throughout the game, and it becomes quite fuzzy on who the bad guy really is. Mr. Stitches is emphatically not a nice guy, true, but it’s also hard to completely believe he’s the end game bad guy.
Though, considering that you have to pay to use the clock in/out machine which allows you to save, capitalism may be the real big bad.
AGGHHH, he says
The world building in Underhero is done in a natural and charming way. Even though you can spend much of the game beating up minions, when you’re in a main hub area, or even just before you commence with handing out a beating, you’re able to chat with a large range of NPCs. They’ll drop tidbits of information, and often a funny one liner. There’s even a handful of small side plots revolving around the NPCs that really bleeds life into the world.
One of the biggest parts of world building, is of course, the literal world building. Underhero has some amazing level design. Until it suddenly doesn’t. Level design either tends to be so well done that you couldn’t ask for more, or a horrible dark mess. The prologue and first level both feature tiered hub areas that are easy to navigate, while still packing in a tonne of interesting areas. Such as the minion cafeteria, or the mysterious restricted lower level that kids definitely aren’t old enough for.
Once you wander into the second level however, things take a turn for the worse. The level itself has a decent set out, and an awesome theme. Haunted mansions are the best! The problem is that once you’re inside, the level is so dark that it’s a pain to even try and play.
Go into the light
One of the main features of the level is the strange blue light you need in order to navigate the level. You’re restricted in your movements, and it’s quite fun figuring out how to edge around the problem. Until you’re forced to dock the switch, or draw the curtains in an attempt to see more than your own face staring back at you from the screen. Don’t even get me started on the part of the level that requires precise platforming, only to take away your light source right before, so that you are forced to play with the screen incredibly close to your face, or by jumping and hoping for the best.
While likely not a problem for PC, PS4, or Xbox One players who could, at the worst moments change the contest on their screens, on Switch, it’s safe to say it can be a little annoying. This level was also one of the few times that a technical problem popped up. Upon finding a room of hovering tables with fluttering table clothes, the frame rate plummeted. It did not help that it was during another platforming section, and the jittering jump paths make it particularly noticeable.
Too many spiders
It is also the level with what seems like the two hardest fights in the whole game. The first one being TWO spiders, and then, just to up the ante, the second one is THREE spiders. Two fights made harder of course, by the fact that you can’t see the spiders half the time as they venture in and out of darkness.
Thankfully, level design picks up again for the latter half of the game, and even includes a wonderfully 3D boss battle. Which wouldn’t be too impressive, except that this is a 2D game. It’s a nice little twist on the mechanics that you’ve been playing with so far, and without giving too much away, it does a good job of playing into certain plot twists.
As any screenshot will show, Underhero has a wonderful, and rather unique art style. It is delightful to look at, and makes you want to explore. The art style is complimented by a sly, tongue in cheek sense of humour delivered by the NPCs. It can be a little bit hit and miss at times, but it is always charming and builds upon the world you’re trying to save. The world is exciting to explore, and most characters are a combination of cute, and interesting in design. This is only helped by a wonderful soundtrack. There are variety of tracks that have been expertly fitted to the levels, separate areas, and save spots.
Underhero can best be described as turned based combat, without the turns. You’re given five main combat abilities. Attack with a sword, attack with a hammer, attack with a slingshot, dodge, and defend with a shield. Each attack performed in time with the music will get you a bit of extra damage. You and your enemy can attack at any time, though your enemy will telegraph the type of move they are going to use, giving you the chance to dodge or block it.
It’s up to you to remember what behaviour indicates what type of move. Your attacking isn’t truly turn based as you have a stamina bar. Your stamina bar refills slowly over time, or when you successfully block or dodge an attack.
The major catch is that you need stamina to dodge, so while you’re carefully managing your stamina, you will fall into a pattern of taking turns attacking, defending and dodging. The combat mechanics force you into a turn based type of combat, but overall, you still have control of when you attack, making it seem like there is much more freedom.
Attacking and dodging isn’t all you can do however. Once you’ve done enough fighting, you can activate ‘Rush Mode’. Music, it turns out, is actually quite important in Underhero. Along with reinventing classic turn based combat, Underhero adds in a little bit of rhythm game action, just to spice things up. Rush mode is a short period of time where you can do extra damage by attacking with the beat while your enemy is stunned. Basically, it’s a rhythm based ultimate attack.
However, if you find that you don’t want to attack your fellow minions, you have another option. You can always bribe them, which is much nicer, but also very costly. Literally. It does get you new lines of dialogue, as well as the feeling of joy that not beating up your fellow (probably minimum wage paid) minions provides. Overall, combat is enjoyable, but it is a lot to take in and it can feel like you’re just muddling your way through a lot of it.
Underhero is a beautiful game, with amazing visuals, music, and story. It is let down however by some poor level design and technical issues that become particularly apparent on the Switch, and even more so in handheld mode.
Overall though, Underhero makes for an enjoyable game that will keep you interested as long as you can slog your way through the extremely dark haunted mansion, and the few rather distracting technical issues.