STAFF REVIEW of Underhero (Xbox One)

Sunday, April 5, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Underhero Box art Every now and then there’s a game that comes along and really surprises me. Usually it’s some small indie game I’ve never heard about and just happens to fall into my lap. This was the case once again when I started playing Underhero. Having never seen anything for it previous to booting it up, I had no preconceived ideas of what to even expect. Sometimes going in this way is a real treat, as you’re experiencing a game for the first time almost shrouded in mystery, so you’re unsure what to expect.

I got lucky this time, as Underhero really impressed me, not only with its fantastic visuals and soundtrack, but its humor and gameplay were fun beginning to finish. At its core, Underhero plays almost like a mix of Paper Mario and a Metroidvania. You explore the world in 2D platforming but then have a unique battle system as well, all encompassed with an interesting story filled will laughs throughout.

We all know how the story goes, where the hero comes in to save the princess and defeat the big bad boss to save the world. That is no different here in the beginning. You start off as a legendary hero, max leveled and dawning the shiniest and best gear there is. How come no one ever thinks of the minions that try and halt the progression of these heroes? You ever wonder what these cannon fodder enemies do all day simply sitting and waiting in a room for a hero to arrive, only to die mere seconds later? This is the premise of Underhero.

You, the Underhero, were simply waiting for the hero to arrive so that you can try and stop him, which of course shouldn’t ever happen because, well, he’s the hero and heroes always prevail over evil. Underhero doesn’t follow this standard trope though, and by some miracle, you manage to actually kill the hero, and your two friends that were in the room with you as well. That’s right, a random minion finally killed the hero, something no one has been able to do before. And of course, since Underhero is filled with humor, you of course defeated him by dropping a chandelier on his head, crushing him.

The now flattened hero was carrying a magical hilt with him, and because you’ve just now become the protagonist, he must go with you now. Yes, the hilt speaks and actually convinces you to work against your evil boss and fulfill its destiny. Your boss, the big bag evil Mr. Stitches gets wind of what has happened and has not only promoted you in light of your massive achievement, but he also lets the captive princess go since she’s no longer needed. He has other plans for you though and sets you on a quest, one you must follow along with for the time being until you’re powerful enough to take Mr. Stitches on directly.

Dialogue is witty throughout and the thought of a simple henchman turned hero is funny in itself, as you now must complete the hero’s quest with your magical hilt guiding you along the way. Underhero is very self-aware and constantly breaks the fourth wall, as it had me laughing throughout. There’s even a butterfly that has two personalities and talks to, and argues, with himself. And don’t forget that when Taco Tuesday gets cut for budget reasons, people will forget the 30% pay cut.

2D sidescrolling is how you’ll explore the world, with slightly branching paths housing secrets and money, puzzles and more. The platforming itself isn’t terribly difficult, which I enjoyed, and the world can seem quite large when you piece together all of the scenes. While there are collectible bonuses, you don’t generally have to explore every inch or do all that much backtracking, which I also appreciated, as it always felt like I was making progress forward.

Between battles you’ll be talking to NPC’s, purchasing items from merchants or stores, or even get to partake in some of the interesting and odd minigames from time to time. These have you racing against bugs with wheels for feet, or maybe taking part in a trivia game show that tests if you’ve been paying attention and talking to people. These sections break up the pace a bit, which is welcome, as I didn’t expect Underhero to be nearly as long as it is.

Combat is the other major component to Underhero that I ended up enjoying more than I expected. Not really turn based, but kind of, combat utilizes a timing based system where if you attack during the musical beat in the background, you’ll gain a critical damage to that attack. There’s a stamina meter you need to keep track of, as if you deplete it, you’ll be unable to block or dodge for a short period of time.

Before battle begins you can actually talk to every enemy, as they may tell you some secret or other information you’d otherwise not have known. Battles too tough? Why not use your hard earned gold to bribe your way out of said battle then? Do you try and squeeze and extra attack in and hope the enemy doesn’t return the favor, or do you use your shield to try and block or parry with the last of your stamina? Land a dodge and your stamina replenishes much quicker, so there’s a balance of offense and defense you need to master as you progress.

You can use your sword for regular attacks, or hold it for a more powerful swipe. You have a hammer that takes a long time to wind up, but does huge damage. For ranged or flying enemies, you have a slingshot that you need to manually aim as well. Your shield can block or parry, but using it too frequently will cause it to break, meaning you’ll have to spend some cash to repair it. The combat eventually becomes quite skill and reaction based in the later levels but never feel unfair, and of course you earn experience points for winning, allowing you to level up and add bonuses to your stats.

Underhero has a fantastic visual aesthetic that screams retro pixel graphics. The animations are done wonderfully and the world and backdrops all vary and fit the tone of the scene you’re in. There’s a lot of small details thrown in if you take the time to look, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The audio is just as good, with an original soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren, someone that I’m not familiar with, but certainly enjoyed the musical bliss throughout.

There’s no doubt that Underhero was made with a lot of love, as it shows in nearly every aspect, not just its visuals and audio, but the clever writing and depth of the gameplay. While you’ve probably not heard of it, Underhero really is fantastic experience start to finish. While I normally love betting on the underdog, you’ll definitely want to bet on the Underhero.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.7 / 10


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