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In the advent of the launch of a new generation of consoles and staggering technological advancements in video games, it’s refreshing to remember that the core foundation of any game is a satisfying gameplay loop.  Undermine, developed by Thorium and previously available on PC and Xbox GamePass, is a great example of how a tight gameplay loop is the bedrock of a fun experience. Undermine may not be a genre-defying rogue-like, but it is a genre-exemplifying one, and it’s satisfying, challenging gameplay combined with several quality of life features make it a great purchase on the Nintendo Switch for fans of the genre.

Undermine is a classic rogue-like.  You enter an expansive, randomized dungeon, defeating enemies and collecting loot and power-ups as you progress until your avatar inevitably perishes.  The game offers some friendly progression mechanics to help make each run last just a little longer. When your peasant dies, your company-owned canary companion brings back some gold that the next peasant can use to purchase permanent upgrades.  These upgrades range from increasing your attack strength and range, upgrading health, and most importantly, getting a better bag to store more gold so your next peasant doesn’t leave as much behind after dying.

And you will die in Undermine. A lot. The playful opening screen is a conga-line of peasants hopping into the mine to their impending doom.  The digital lives of your avatars are at your disposal to achieve your goals for each run, and their lives end with charming obituaries and your stats for that run. Such is life in a rogue-like.

Undermine is full of charm. It’s lovely 16-bit aesthetic with reverence to games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past adds a layer of flair and humor to the rock-solid gameplay loop.  Players will need to scan the screen to search for secrets and use their trusty bombs to open new rooms and passages.  The only issue I’ve had is that some of the rooms have objects that are covered by the game’s mini-map, but this is infrequent and only a minor inconvenience when it occurs.  The entire package is a nice, pleasant experience that performs well on the Nintendo Switch.

Undermine fits particularly well on the Nintendo Switch due to some quality of life features that make the daunting challenge a bit more approachable.  The game autosaves at every level of the dungeon, allowing for short-bursts of gameplay if desired.  No need to go on a 1-hour run from start to finish in order to save progress or feel fulfilled.  You can reach a certain level, pause and quit the game, and return later right where you left off, which is a nice option for such a demanding game.

Undermine is fulfilling and rewarding, but it is challenging.  The bosses are brutal tests of skill and ability, even after grinding to unlock more health and damage upgrades. You can actually skip bosses on runs, but at some point you need to defeat them to officially finish the game. Fortunately, they do not respawn (there is a post-game mode with respawning bosses for those that love to punish themselves), so once you beat them, they are done, and the rewards they provide are worth the effort.    

As a rogue-like, the randomized rooms can be devious and deadly; traps and obstacles are abundant, and even basic enemies can pack a punch in tight rooms full of danger.  The game has no shortage of curses and cunning enemies to add variety and challenge to each run, and the game exploits the urge to explore secrets by often filling them with devious traps and surprises.  Familiarity with A Link to the Past was actually used against me at one point; I completed a puzzle involving lighting torches, only to be rewarded by a chest full of exploding bombs.  It was awesome and evil and I loved it, even though it wrecked that particular run.  

The story is a bit thin, but it is mostly charming window-dressing.  It does not have the narrative incentive that more recent rogue-likes such as Children of Morta and Hades use to provide additional encouragement to make each run.  The gameplay is the reward; the loop of delving, looting, acquiring buffs and power-ups, and progressing is its engine, so your mileage may vary depending on how long the loop is satisfying for you.  The game does offer extensive content and challenges after you complete the core game.  This is a game you can play for 10 hours or 100 hours and still feel satisfied with your time.

Undermine is an excellent and challenging rogue-like that fans of the genre will enjoy.  While it is more approachable than some of its counterparts, it still demands time and effort from the player and may not be for everyone.  The 16-bit aesthetic may be alluring to novices of the genre, but be aware that the game is deep and challenging and depends on the player’s commitment in order to achieve maximum enjoyment.  If you enjoy rogue-likes, Undermine is a must-own on the Nintendo Switch.  If you are hesitant or uncertain about the genre, Undermine might still be a great entry point due to it’s approachable accommodations and permanent progression system.  In either case, this is a quality title that deserves consideration for your Nintendo Switch library.

Score: 9

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