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‘UnderMine’ is an Addicting, Familiar Roguelike

‘UnderMine’ offers a new obsession for roguelike fans, as they die over and over again to discover its many secrets.

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UnderMine

Developer: Thorium Entertainment | Publisher: Thorium Entertainment | Genre: Action-Adventure Roguelike | Platforms: Mac, Windows, Xbox One | Reviewed On: Xbox One

UnderMine is the ultimate dopamine drip. On my second run through the UnderMine, it was immediately apparent that this was my new obsession. As I ventured in and collected as much gold as possible with my trusty pickaxe, I eventually died fairly early on – as expected in any roguelike. Yet, I came out with a new shopkeeper. He set up shop in the mine’s hub world, offering to craft relics for me and provide upgrades for my revolving door of peasants. Each subsequent run provided the traditional roguelike setup: start weak and grow stronger through collecting a variety of relics. With each run, you master the mechanics and attack patterns of enemies. What makes UnderMine stand out and have the lasting impact it does, is the incorporation of rogue-lite elements that make every subsequent run slightly easier than the first and gives each one a different purpose.

Players control a peasant who goes into the procedurally generated UnderMine on the quest for gold, power, and to stop the source of problems plaguing the mine. The broad strokes of the story are bare, but as you delve deeper into the mine the cast of characters increases, each with their own unique benefits to the player. I found someone who was not able to return to their shop until they found three mushrooms growing in the mine. Of course, aiding the wandering soul opened up a new set of items that could be crafted to find on subsequent runs of the game. The game’s repeating roguelike mechanics work in tandem with the roguelike progression, providing a constant feeling that every run is worthwhile – even when it seems hopelessly lost.

UnderMine

Direct comparisons to The Binding of Isaac are fairly apt. UnderMine doesn’t hide this either, with rooms hidden on each floor, relics that increase a stat or provide an ability, or a shop to purchase food, items like keys and bombs, or potions (the equivalent to pills in The Binding of Isaac, though their effects are never hidden and almost always positive) and relics. There is even the mechanic of sacrificing some life in order to potentially benefit. Where this game differs is even in the most brutal runs, it feels more weighted towards the player. Curses are the main threat to your peasant as they strip away stats or occasionally present more severe consequences. Yet, even the most harmful curse can be removed. Almost every hindrance put on the player is a minor inconvenience, shrugged off relatively easily.

Each run boils down to clearing four areas before fighting the boss and proceeding to the next level (or bypassing the boss entirely if you can find a shortcut). Armed with just a pickaxe that can do melee and ranged damage, players run through each area collecting relics and items to buff their stats. Each level is its own unique environment with distinct hazards and enemies. The main objective when going through each area is to power yourself up by collecting relics and gold. Spend that gold at shops for more power-ups, or save it for when you eventually die. UnderMine stands out because its roguelike elements are fun enough, but it’s the constant sense of progression that provides a far greater sense of accomplishment and fulfills a stronger power fantasy.

UnderMine

This is where comparisons to games like Rogue Legacy bear more fruit. Each time your peasant dies, a portion of the gold they were carrying is given to the next peasant. Spend that gold on permanent upgrades that persist between peasants, new familiars to help you through the dungeon, or items to help your next immediate delve. For a decent stretch of the game, the UnderMine becomes a means of getting back to the hub. I would dive into setting a goal for myself where the benefit would be for the overall meta and not the current run. Occasionally that short-term goal would change based on how the run is going, but the endpoint was always the same: the next peasant reaps the benefits.

With five different levels to the UnderMine, it took roughly 23 hours for me to defeat every boss and witness credits. However, the game has its own New Game+, allowing players to continue adventuring through the UnderMine. It also unlocks the OtherMine. This mode is your more traditional roguelike as nothing carries over between peasants – everything you do in that run is gone once you die. The OtherMine is an interesting distraction from the core gameplay loop. Players are stripped of their upgrades when they go in and are given a few choices of starting blessings, relics, and items to carry into the mine. From there it’s a randomized set of previous levels, enemies, and a boss at the end of every three areas. Consider this the more challenging mode as everything seems stronger, providing players who relied on their permanent upgrades a significant challenge, while those who mastered the core mechanics will have a slightly easier time mastering the OtherMine.

UnderMine

Dressed up in a nice coat of whimsy and satire, the game is endearing in almost every regard. Cute creatures called pilfers try to steal gold while you race to collect it and characters make fun of other characters behind their backs. It’s a shame that the overarching story isn’t more prevalent, though roguelikes like this often sacrifice narrative knowing only so much can be done without a persistent main character. The dressing that is there is sufficient and does a decent job fleshing out the supporting cast of characters further. It just doesn’t make enough of an impact to set that aspect of the game apart from others in the genre. It even has a soundtrack that feels reminiscent of other roguelikes – infectious, yes, but also rarely exceptional.

The only real problem with UnderMine is that once I finished the main game, every other run felt more and more trivial. The core gameplay loop is in service of the meta, but once that’s taken away, there isn’t much more to do that feels as important as that did. The relics, while all different, only rarely change up the way you play the game in any significant way. For example, you might detect more secret rooms from a relic you pick up, but that just means carrying a few more bombs than usual. Maybe now gold can duplicate, but then you’re just picking it up for a longer period of time. It’s the combination of relics that offer the most interesting tweaks to how a player will behave. throwing a pickaxe might ricochet off enemies, potentially igniting them until it comes back to you only to let off a surge of lightning to nearby enemies. Compounding the effects of relics is the most fun aspect during a single run.

UnderMine

The game’s biggest weakness is really that it’s almost always in the player’s favor. The randomization of relics in a run can slightly change the player’s behavior and how they approach a combat scenario, but it is never a negative impact. Whereas curses offer some difficulty, it is extremely rare for them to be debilitating in any severe way (unless you get the dreaded teleport curse, then you better get rid of it as soon as possible). Some runs I could have 6 or 7 curses and not feel any impact from it because I have so many more blessings and relics. If I died, I feel more like I died because of carelessness than I did by the restraints placed on me. 

This is only a small flaw in an otherwise fantastic game. The number of secrets to discover whether they are relics, rooms, or characters is impressive. UnderMine encourages exploration because it rarely hurts the player to do so. In fact, it’s almost always beneficial in those first twenty or so hours to look through every nook and cranny of an area. There’s a magic to UnderMine that doesn’t get old until you’ve technically beaten it, in which case, it’s a great time while it lasts. If the desire to play continues, there’s plenty more to do, it just doesn’t have the same lasting influence over the game. That wonderful feeling during a run persists, but it never really amounts to much once you’ve finished it.

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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