Undermine is the latest game in what’s starting to feel like a flood of roguelikes (or really, ‘roguelites’) hitting the market. While it’s not pushing the boundaries of innovation, it’s a polished experience and one that stands out in an increasingly crowded genre.
The cadre of miners that the player controls get a pickax and bombs. The pickax can be swung or thrown and to avoid damage, you can jump. Jumping is what provides the crucial invincibility frames in a game like this. You’ll explore through five different areas of the mine, each consisting of four procedurally-generated floors that culminate in a boss fight.
In a clever twist though, the boss fights can be skipped in favor of curses, a payment in gold, or defeating waves of enemies. In the early going, it can be an interesting decision to accumulate more gold on lower levels rather than take on a boss you don’t think you can defeat. Once a boss is killed, it’s gone for subsequent runs (but can respawn once the player clears the entire game).
You’ll bring back a portion of the gold that you collected on your run to the main hub after you die. This creates another dynamic where you’ll need to decide whether or not to spend your money on items that will only help you on the current run, or if you’ll try to hoard your gold to unlock global upgrades after the run.
If there’s one game already on the market that it’s most similar to, it would be Dodge Roll’s spectacular Enter The Gungeon. There are different unlockable characters for the main hub that you’ll have to rescue in multiple trips to the mines, bombable walls will sparkle with certain upgrades or if another bomb has gone off in the room, and the gameplay of each have a similar difficulty.
Of course you could also see Neon Chrome when you get a free trial of the new relic you’ve just crafted, Rogue Legacy in the way you spend your gold, or a number of games with the familiar that accompanies you on each run.
It seems almost inescapable that when a new game comes out in this genre that it will be compared to games like The Binding of Isaac or Gungeon, but what makes a game successful is how it uses the systems that have been offered by its predecessors.
For me, Undermine really falls in a sweet spot. It’s not an easy game per se, but I never felt like I was stuck. Each run felt meaningful and like I was making progress. Whether it was due to the right combination of items or just playing well, it was very satisfying that once I knocked off the second boss, the third and fourth fell on the same run. It really felt as if I was always accomplishing something.
The systems in place are fair, with curses offsetting upgrades (and systems to remove those curses), accurate movement and timing, and enemies that have clearly defined priorities in a room. I was frustrated when the gold stealing Pilfer enemy knocked me into a pit, but it taught me the mechanic and didn’t happen again.
Undermine is a game that rewards your planning with items and consideration of what’s going on in each room, and allows you to ‘git gud’ at it quickly.
A trip through every floor of the mine can take over an hour, but to get through the main part of the game never felt like a chore and probably will run anywhere between 10-15 hours. After the main story is finished, you’ll still likely have items to unlock and you can resurrect the bosses for future run throughs.
You can also move on to the ‘othermine’ that eschews your traditionally purchased upgrades for a new set of blessing, curses, items, and upgrades for each run.
Despite not having a ton of variety in the environments, the ones that are there look nice and I never had any hiccups in terms of performance. The mines are cozy and well drawn.
Everything in a room feels natural without being too obtuse to notice something special. If you’re a fan of the genre, Undermine is a must play, but in the same way that breakout hits like Isaac grabbed other gamers, Undermine is likely to as well, particularly because of its inclusion in Microsoft’s Game Pass.
It’s worth your time for a straightforward take on the genre that won’t require you to constantly consult a wiki or bang your head in frustration.