Underhero is an RPG from Paper Castle Games which looks to change a number of tired and reused ideas from previous RPGs in an attempt to create something both novel and fun. The game starts with you questioning whether you have skipped a huge chunk of content as you seem to be ridiculously over powered and fight through waves of enemies with ease… only to realise that this isn’t the story you were intended to play out. In fact, Paper Castle Games asked the question “what if a minion actually defeated the hero for once?” Imagine a world where a henchman actually managed to hit his mark before the final confrontation.
Well, Underhero does just that, crashing your character into a situation he has no idea how to handle. Returning the mcguffins to your boss Mr. Stitches, who then tasks you to portal to the various boss locations to return them to his “upper minions.” However, the hero leaves behind the hilt of his weapon, who goes by the name of Elizabeth IV, the famed hilt of heroes. Elizabeth then tasks you with defeating the various bosses and minions of your current employer and completing the task for which she had laid before the previous hero.
This novel twist on the hero’s role in an RPG is both welcome and relatively unique. Driving further plot points as to why you decide to battle former co-workers and overthrow your boss (Well, besides wanting to battle Jeff in accounting and finally get that big office.)
You then traverse a number of worlds, forest/tree level, a volcano and a haunted mansion, meeting enemies and completing tasks and puzzles as you level up, drink coffee and take names! Go forth underling and make us proud!
Travelling through the various lands is relatively easy. Using direction buttons allows you to walk quite quickly and the B button allows you to jump. Holding B utilises the hood in your sweatshirt to glide, which comes in handy when trying to reach some platforms, and overall the platforming elements are no different from others in the genre.
The majority of the game’s mechanics are attached to the RPG elements of the game, with combat being initiated by walking into an enemy. Unlike it’s inspiration however, I wasn’t able to initiate any kind of advantage system by jumping on enemies and, as you aren’t able to activate weapons outside of battle, it would seem that here isn’t a way to gain an edge there. During combat you have a number of options which are made available to you as you progress further through the game. You are first introduced to using your sword and the stamina mechanic. A novel way of mixing turn based and rhythm based combat, the stamina bar reduces as you use weapons and initially, this uses quite a lot. Once depleted, our hero has to stop and take a breather while the meter refills. This creates obvious opportunities for enemies to retaliate and making the game feel turn based without actually being turn based.
Attacking and defending is similar to the Mario RPG games in a few ways. When launching an attack, rather than having a sweet spot whereby more damage can be dealt when pressing the attack button at a certain time, underhero deals slightly more damage when attacking on the beat, similar to the Crypt of the Necromancer games. Dealing damage this way reveals the word “groovy” to show you have successfully dealt more damage. When defending, Enemies often broadcast their attacks with a selection of “tells” and this will result in either a high attack or a low one, both of which can be dodged when timed correctly. There is also the option to parry attacks using your shield. Using the shield can damage it, requiring it to be repaired with anvils or replaced, but if a well timed parry is used it allows our hero to attack a stunned enemy and gain some stamina with which to do so. All of this makes learning the combat mechanics
There are plenty of other mechanics tied into the combat to make Underhero feel that little bit different. Firstly is being able to talk to the enemies, as a fellow minion yourself you are able to communicate to fellow underlings and they may even give out hints on how to reach areas or complete tasks. However, if you are keen to move on and combat is slowing you down, you are able to simply toss a coin, or two, and the minions will simply move aside for you. They have to make a living after all.
This links into the experience development within Underhero. Completing each battle earns you experience points and eventually you are able to level up your character. As a reward at each level you can increase one of HP, strength or stamina a maximum of 3 times. You also collect other weapons with different properties. Some, like the slingshot, come early on and provide a weakened range attack. The other is a hammer which, as you can probably guess, provides a stronger attack but at a slower speed.
Boss battles are another opportunity for the game to show how much different it is from regular platformers and rpgs. By simply combining the two. Following a learn the pattern tactic until you are able to initiate combat as though they were just another lowly minion. Rinse and repeat.
Where the game lets itself down is in the saving of progress. Each area has a designated save point which charges a fee for it’s first use, but is available freely after that. Within the area is also a coffee station so that minions like yourself can recharge and a cassette player, more on that later. There are also checkpoints at certain areas but these are fairly scarce. The issues arise when saving and continuing your game. Inevitably, and often early on, you will get a fair distance from a save point only to fall in battle and have to continue from a fair stretch back. Another possibility is trekking back and forth in order to save the game before entering trickier areas. With no map in hand, relying instead on signposted maps to guide you, knowing where you have been and where you’ve still to go can be a slightly more tedious task than it needs to be. This was one of the only issues that made me consider putting down the controller though.
Graphically, this game is quite frankly beautiful. The background art is well designed and sits both within the theme of the 2D world and the area you are currently playing it, adding to the immersive experience and overall the general feeling while playing was that this was a love letter to it’s inspiration and the team behind the art direction would have little difficulty in creating an expanded world for their characters. Add to this the sheer depth and creative talent behind the chiptune soundtrack that accompanies the game and you have a title that has clearly had a lot of love, and a high level of polish, applied to it before release.
Overall I really enjoyed playing Underhero. The world created is humorous and the plot deeper than I expected from an indie title that has had little fanfare since being released on PC in 2018. In a world where Mario RPG fans are pleading for a title in either series that has original characters and ideas and feel like a true game in the genre, let alone their respective franchises, they can take heart that there are developers who loved those games and want to continue making them. The game deserves a sequel if for no other reason than to give fans more of an opportunity to see the development of these characters further. This is definitely one to pick up for any fan of RPGs.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 5/10
User Review( votes)
Underhero is a refreshing revival of the RPG/Platformer genre. The influences of games in both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi franchises are clear from the off and this almost feels like a love letter to those past games. The mechanics borrow heavily from these previous titles whilst including it’s own stamina mechanic. It also combines beautiful artwork with an enjoyable soundtrack which, when combined with the plot, create an immersive experience that most fans of RPGs will enjoy. This is definitely one to consider adding to your library.
- Combat will really appeal to fans of Paper Mario / Mario & Luigi games
- Gorgeous 2D graphics with high levels of detail
- Unique twist on a classic story that will immerse you in the game
- Frustrating level design at times
- Save system doesn’t help the first issue