Paper Castle Games, as developer and publisher, present the RPG-platformer Underhero for review. As an underling who happened to kill the real hero of the story, the player must reverse the hero’s course and help the bad guy restore the power stones to the bosses of different worlds. But are the bad guys really that bad, or are they just misunderstood victims of circumstance? Through humor, platforming, and rhythmic RPG combat the player will find out for themselves as they travel with the hapless underling.
Underhero follows a simple formula with its platforming, and a slightly more complex system in its combat. The player navigates on a two-dimensional field when traveling the game world. Aside from an (admittedly cute) option to float gently in the air, the platforming involves a basic array of moving targets to land on and spikes that may hurt or poison the underling.
The combat is where Underhero gets its complexity. The player must risk stamina to perform attacks and if their stamina is too low they’ll lose control. Properly timing attacks with the music and visual cues leads to a boost in stamina, allowing the player to push the offensive or prepare for counterattacks. It’s a simple risk / reward system that requires careful attention not only to the rhythm of combat, but also to how tired the underling may be.
The simple bait-and-switch of Underhero is advertised right there in the product description, stating that “…the chosen hero has failed, and an underling of the evil king takes his place as the new hero.” So I wasn’t surprised when a mess of spikes came down on the seemingly invincible do-gooder I had brief control over. What did surprise me, and where Underhero embraces a warm sense of humor rare to video games, is when the perpetually spooked underling chances upon a union organizing effort. The effort is in response to big bad Mr. Stitches decreeing that there will be no more Taco Tuesday.
That moment, while amusing, also displays Underhero‘s tender heart. It’s hard to feel like you matter, or that collective efforts mean much, when you’re just one cog in a vast web of living resources. The poor underling’s design is another beautifully simple facet of this sensation. He looks like he’s living in constant anxiety of everything around him, and the usual freedom and joy of platforming seems one more daunting task for the guy who just wanted to keep his head down. I’ve pondered on Underhero for a good while now and living in the scary, while hopeful, times we do made this little fella sing to me in his every hesitant step forward.
Underhero is by no means a “serious” game, but thrr tender humor and character design sparkles and never loses its luster. Navigating the world of Underhero doesn’t quite carry the same spark though. The platforming is pretty basic and with sparse healing combined with encounters starting at the slightest enemy touch, it feels like an unnecessary ode to the masterful platforming world of Super Mario RPG. There’s still a lot of fun within the world however, like running commentary from a Goofus and Gallant butterfly duo, but not from actually navigating it.
The battles are the engaging gameplay touch to the blessings of the sprite design and script. Underhero‘s stamina system, where each attack drains a bit of energy and too much offense leaves the underling defenseless, makes every action important. If the stamina just added bonus damage on offense, or reduced damage taken on defense, it wouldn’t play back into how out of his depth the poor underling is. That makes those timed dodges and attacks that much more satisfying. The first time I recovered just enough stamina to dodge an attack, counter, then block my opponent’s counter, and emerge victorious was striking. Through the visual and music cues the underling is capable of rising above being just another face in the crowd.
Underhero was played and reviewed using a provided review code of Underhero for the Nintendo Switch.
Underhero creates a welcoming space in the lineage of platformer-RPGs. While the world is not always engaging to navigate, the humor and warmth of the poor underling's struggle to get through the adventure constantly hits a touching note. The battles are a better expression of the underling's growth and tie together the different aesthetic elements to express his progress. In its own humorously dignified way, Underhero shows it's possible to be more than your position in life even if the circumstances aren't what you want them to be.
- Moving beyond its advertised twist, Underhero displays great warmth and humor in trying to stand out or feel important in a mass of struggling people.
- Wonderful sprite art that always underlines the hapless underling's struggle.
- Battle system extends the story of the underling with a great risk / reward stamina system.
- Navigating the world of Underhero is rarely engaging.