Developed By: Paper Castle Games
Published By: Digerati
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer, Role-Playing Game
Release Date: 02.13.20
In today’s world, selfless, intrepid heroes are a dime a dozen. Fate chooses all kinds of brave kids with scarves or capes and gives them all kinds of magic swords or whatever and off they go to save the princess. So it is in the Chestnut Kingdom, where evil forces – well, one evil force, Mr. Stitches – have kidnapped the princess (again) and the great hero Scarf Kid has risen to collect magic gems and save the kingdom. Until one of Stitches’ Stitch Kid henchmen drops a chandelier on him. And that’s where the quirky, funny story of Underhero for the Nintendo Switch picks up.
Even in Trope-Bending Satire, Heroes Have Swords
You play as that Stitch Kid with the great(?) idea about the chandelier. After checking out the hero’s corpse, you collect Scarf Kid’s ancient talking sword which has traditionally guided heroes to gather the magic gems needed to banish Mr. Stitches. Elizabeth (the sword’s name is Elizabeth) tells you it’s fate that you found her (you don’t mention that the whole chandelier thing was your idea), and informs you that now you’re going to go on a quest to defeat Mr. Stitches. Mr. Stitches – unaware that you have the sword – gives you a quest of his own; to return the three magic gems collected by Scarf Kid to his underbosses. Why redistribute them instead of destroying the only relics that supposedly have the power to defeat him? It’s one of many questions raised about the cycle of heroes as the Stitch Kid and Elizabeth set out on their quest to turn the heroes’ journey on its head – even as they travel that very path themselves.
Aside from the quirky, engaging story, Underhero boasts quite an original gameplay concept to boot, mixing platforming adventure with RPG-inspired timing-based combat encounters. The platforming is pretty standard Metroidvania stuff; you jump around traversing levels to figure out puzzles that let you open up new areas to explore. Stitch Kid has the power to use his hood like a parachute to glide for short distances, but that’s really all the help you get in terms of platforming abilities – much to Elizabeth’s chagrin. And I kind of agree. I mean, really, what kind of hero can’t wall jump, or at least double jump? It’s basic stuff.
The combat, though, is a little more original. It’s set up kind of like a traditional turn-based RPG, except it’s timing-based, not turn based. You can select your action from a menu, choosing from actions like a regular attack, heavy attack, ranged attack, or guard, but you perform them in real-time. If you guard at the last second, you can perform a parry and either stun an enemy or knock their attack right back at them. You have a stamina meter that slowly refills over time, but if you successfully dodge an attack you can instantly regain some stamina. You have two dodges – jump and duck. Memorizing your opponents’ attack patterns and tells helps you to dodge more accurately – for instance, the snakemen will stick their tongue out when they’re going high, and blink when they’re going low. It’s a pretty cool system that took me a little while to get used to. Once I got the timing for parrying down, though, the game got way easier, in a good way. Some enemies are very frustrating to beat if you can’t parry properly.
One of the coolest aspects of the game is that it acknowledges that all these monsters you’re fighting are technically your coworkers, and gives you a way to use that to your advantage. You can throw money at your opponents to bribe them to let you go past – you get less experience for this, though, and you can’t come back and fight them later. This gets expensive, and you can’t really bribe bosses, so it pretty much just leaves you underpowered, but it’s cool that the game acknowledges your relationship. More interesting is the fact that you can talk to enemies before you attack them and they’ll give you all the best gossip including hints about the locations of key items and some key backstory elements. Don’t forget to talk to everyone before you beat them up!
No One Told Me There Would Be A Test
You’ll need some of the info gleaned from enemies to pass the Puzzleman’s test. Who is the Puzzleman? He’s a guy with a dice for a head that shows up before boss fights to quiz you on the game’s lore – or specifically, about the backstory of each of Mr. Stitches’ underbosses. He rewards you with money if you get the questions right, and makes fun of you if you get the questions wrong. At least there’s no penalty, I guess? The quiz show-style intermission breaks up the action of the game and gives things a little variety. Underhero doesn’t really need a lot of variety because the basic gameplay concept is pretty fun, but it’s a nice thing to have anyway.
I Never Say No To Pixel Art
I feel like I’m running out of ways to say how much I love retro-inspired pixel art, but I’m not running out of love for the style. Underhero has an incredibly attractive visual style – it’s retro, cartoony, and still manages to express a great amount of detail in both the character models and backgrounds. I love it. The soundtrack is quirky, cartoony, and spooky in equal measure whenever it needs to be. It’s a great soundtrack, made better by the fact that you can collect the game’s music as cassette tapes in-game and listen to it at the boom box found in all of the game’s save rooms.
Underhero Stands Above the Crowd
With its unique mix of RPG-inspired action and solid platforming adventure, Underhero could get a good score based on gameplay alone. Instead, the devs chose to create a quirky, funny story told in an imaginative way that even integrates itself into combat. Then they decided even that wasn’t enough, and threw some beautiful pixel art graphics and a wonderful soundtrack on top of everything they had already built. They ended up with a game that will appeal to platforming fans, RPG fans, adventure fans, retro game fans, and anyone who just wants a great story. Actually, even if you’re none of those things, Underhero is just a great game and you should play it.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.