Ask an Indie developer what influenced their choice of career path and many will tend to answer with their favourite game. In some cases, it’s a game that hasn’t seen a true follow up in quite a while which provides the motivation for the developer to make something they’re passionate about. For the folks over at Paper Castle Games, it’s clear that the inspiration for their cute and colourful indie hit, Underhero, comes from the early days of the Paper Mario series. Initially released on Steam in 2018, Underhero feels right at home on the Switch, providing a terrific blend of platforming with an RPG battle system and leveling up mechanics.
For a delightfully cute and humorous title, Underhero starts off on a sad note. The story begins in the final castle, with the chosen hero having already collected the tokens needed to take on the evil villian, Mr. Stitches. Unfortunately for the hero, a grim chandelier accident brings an end to the hero’s journey, leaving the legendary sword, Elizabeth IV without a champion to wield her. After learning of the hero’s demise, the evil Mr. Stitches claims victory as his own, and tasks the underling that actually defeated the hero on a quest to return the tokens back to the subordinates who lost them. Instead of simply returning the tokens, the underling is convinced by Elizabeth to retrace the journey of the hero and build the strength necessary complete the task of the hero: defeat the evil Mr. Stitches to prevent the fall of the kingdom.
With the castle of the evil Mr. Stitches acting as a hub world, the Underhero travels to each region one at a time to return the tokens taken by the hero. Each world has its own aesthetics, whether a forest, haunted house, or jungle theme and each requires exploration to discover the path to the area boss. The worlds are two-dimensional, and have a metroidvania feel to them as you’ll be platforming through maze-like passages looking for ways to unlock new pathways. Hidden items are found throughout the levels and provide power-ups for the character or collectible items such as cassettes to add to the music available. For the most part, each of the levels has a good balance of interesting characters to find and satisfying areas to explore. Some of the labyrinth areas can be difficult to get your bearings, in particular the jungle area of world 3, but generally the worlds don’t wear out their welcome.
The battle system for Underhero has a very Paper Mario feel to it, though instead of a turn-based system, it’s closer to the active-time battle turn-based of a Final Fantasy title. Battles begin when the Underhero approaches an enemy, and they have a number of different attacks that can be used. The standard attack is a sword swing, but as you progress the addition of a slingshot and hammer becomes available. The number of attacks, and when you choose to use them are determined by a stamina system. Each attack uses up stamina, and when the meter is drained it will leave your character vulnerable to attacks while they catch their breath. Dodging attacks is incredibly important in Underhero as a successful parry will refill your stamina meter allowing for additional attacks. A shield that requires regular maintenance to keep its integrity allows for additional defence and it can even deflect an attack back at an enemy.
The battle sequences in Underhero are fairly fun but a few different factors limit its enjoyment. Enemies choreograph attacks so once you’ve learned the pattern the challenge is all in the timing. Unfortunately the enemy variety is quite low so in any given level you may only have 5 or 6 different enemy types to memorize. The boss battles are enjoyable as they incorporate a mix of platforming to avoid attacks and a bit different combat. It feels a bit strange having to bump the boss in order to activate the combat after avoiding attacks but it’s a fun experience nonetheless.
Having recently played Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, I can say that I actually prefer the gameplay of Underhero. The more active battle sequences along with the platforming just make it a more exciting experience. Underhero even replicates the same goofy humour that Paper Mario fans are accustomed to. Dialogue between characters is well written and plenty of laughs are to be had. Underhero is a perfect example of an indie game that can fill the void left by an old favourite, and fans who’ve been waiting patiently for Paper Mario to go back to its RPG roots should definitely take notice.