UnderMine is a roguelite and roguelike dungeon crawler from developer Thorium Entertainment and publisher Fandom. Product of just people, Derek Johnson and Clint Tasker, UnderMine sees players traverse the depth of an ancient mine as disposable peasants at the whim of a cruel, old master. The story is basically that a cruel old man who owns a mine filled with treasures and monsters both wants and doesn’t want you messing around down there. There are no real great mysteries or pieces of lore to uncover. Bits of new dialogue will become available as you rescue folks from inside the mine or progress through its floors.
In its gameplay alone, UnderMine stands out from the sea of recent roguelite and roguelike games. Rather than the usual dual-stick bullet-hell, UnderMine sets you up with a pickaxe that you need to either swing or throw to slay enemies. To dodge, your recourse is to move about or jump. These simple mechanics make for a dramatically different experience from that of say, Enter the Gungeon, or The Binding of Isaac. It requires you to maneuver about each room and engage each enemy differently. Even within each room, the need to get close to enemies to hit them is uniquely challenging because of how each enemy moves and attacks and how each room is boobie trapped.
The enemies, at first, feel somewhat trite. You have your typical dungeon skeletons, spiders, and slimes. But the enemies do become more visually interesting as the game progresses and these basic enemy archetypes receive upgrades. Each enemy type and its upgrades have entirely unique attacks, movements, and means of defeating them, making every enemy encounter a fun challenge. A staple of roguelikes, the items you accumulate on each dungeon floor—relics—offer variety to each run. Ranging from stat buffs to item duplicators to traversal items, the list of relics is long with few duds, especially as you unlock more throughout the game. A special currency, Thorium, is required to purchase new relics, potions, familiars, and blessings and can only be acquired by defeating bosses or by supreme luck in chests or breakables.
UnderMind also has light RPG elements. While each death is the end of the road for any single peasant, their upgrades and a portion of their gold, the main currency of the game, are carried up to the next peasant in line. Gold can be spent in the main hub on upgrades to health, damage, throw range, potion longevity, and other stats that will make your trek down to the Golden Core more feasible. Pilfers, little green buggers, try to steal your gold if you don’t pick it up fast enough, which adds to the chaos of each room. Fortunately, unlike other similar games, they don’t touch the other items like food or potions, letting you come back to them later before leaving the floor if you need to.
The game’s primary mode consists of five zones with four floors each and a boss at the end of every zone. Defeating each boss leaves them slain until you complete a full run of the game. Upon defeating the fifth boss, you will pull a Summoning Stone from the ground, resurrecting the bosses, slightly increasing the difficulty, and beginning the true challenge of the game. You can endlessly attempt higher and higher difficulties, pull the Resurrection Stone, and continue on and on. Some of the greatest fun of UnderMine comes in these subsequent runs as you have to balance your blessings and curses to maximize the stats that match your relics and your bomb and key supply.
You can pray at alters to gain small stat boosts, but each prayer comes at a cost. The minor curses imposed are not usually so devastating, but they quickly stack up. And if you take a big risk and swap a major curse for a chance at a good relic, those can cause serious trouble. You have to remember not to rush into purchasing items or praying for blessings until you’ve fully explored and calculated your risk. Are there anti-curse talismans or potions on the floor? Can your health bar or gold supply afford to be gambled at the game’s numerous luck-based item generators or rerollers?
Once you feel proficiently skilled at UnderMine‘s roguelite main game, it’s time to try your hand at its true and challenging roguelike dungeon, the Othermine. In the Othermine, you start with none of your upgrades or gold, or any items or relics you may have picked up in the hub beforehand. Dropped into a starting anti-chamber, you must make the difficult choice between one of two blessings, curses, relics, and familiar, receive a few random upgrades, and go. Make it through four sets of three levels and random bosses and you’ll be victorious.
This mode is exceptionally challenging. Starting with zero gold, a suppressed amount of gold dropping, few items in each floor’s shops, and frequent barriers to entering shops and relic rooms without spending resources, most runs will end before you ever beat the first boss no matter how skilled you are. It sometimes feels like the only way to win is by getting a perfectly lucky combination of keys, bombs, and relics on the first few floors. But, with practice, even the Othermine can be conquered as well.
That is, if you don’t run out of Nether, the currency required to make an attempt at the Othermine. The main means of accumulating this currency is by purchasing new relics, potions, etc. And, you can only start your stockpile after defeating the fourth boss in the main game. Otherwise, you either have to complete a run of the Othermine or, when you’re all out of Nether, purchase more for Thorium. I wish you could just enter at your own will and not worry about having to grind for one rare currency just to purchase another rare currency to make attempts at this challenging mode.
I also appreciate that, despite having north of 90 achievements, most of them are designed to get you playing deeper into the metagame. A good achievement list nudges the player towards different aspects of the game, ways of playing it, challenges, and secrets. Despite the difficulty of many of the late-game achievements, none require time-sink grinds or unfair odds. They’re fun and aspirational.
Visually, UnderMine is swell, but I don’t love the mundane pixel art peasants and wish that maybe their appearance changed as you equipped relics or upgrades. But the enemy designs and environments are all gorgeous, and since you spend more time staring at everything else besides your disposable character, it’s not a huge crime. The music in UnderMine is also forgettable, yet, somehow gets stuck in my head. It doesn’t feel like it completely fits the atmosphere all the time, but it is somehow catchy in fifteen-second spurts.
There were a few hiccups in the build of the game I played. Occasionally, gold or other currency would disappear through a wall or land on a precipice where it could not be reached. Frame rates would also drop on the rare occasion that too many pieces of gold spawned at once. Additionally, the game always freezes at the start of the fourth boss fight for a second or two, and some assets would become inexplicably invisible on rare occasions during that fight. Otherwise, though, the game runs smoothly and I look forward to the day-one update adding additional content, and future updates as well.
If you are looking for a new, challenging game to play with a unique take on a tried-and-true genre, UnderMine is absolutely a must-play. As a day-one Xbox Game Pass release, there is simply no reason not to go spelunking in this well-crafted, deep, and challenging game. With its unique take on roguelike combat mechanics and an array of resources and stats to balance and manage, UnderMine is a great place to start for newcomers to the genre and players looking for a serious challenge alike.
UnderMine is available on August 6th on Xbox, PC, Mac, and Linux. Coming soon to Playstation and Nintendo Switch.
If you are looking for a new challenging game to take on with a unique take on a tried and true genre, UnderMine is absolutely a must-play. Especially as a day-one Xbox Game Pass release, there is simply no reason not to go spelunking in this well-crafted, deep, and challenging game. With its unique take on roguelike combat mechanics and an array of resources and stats to balance and manage, UnderMine is a great place to start for newcomers to the genre and players looking for a serious challenge alike.