I love a good story that takes traditional tropes and flips them on their head. Underhero is one such story, one where an underling of the main villain somehow kills the hero of the story just as he is nearing saving the princess, and inevitably, the world. Though not inherently evil, he is on the bad team. So when the heroes living sword finds our underling at the hilt, she is a bit concerned and confused, but chops it up to fate. Elizabeth, our brave and sassy sword, commands the kid to venture forward, and continue to act as a minion while she deciphers a plan to take out his boss, the wicked Mr. Stitches. This begins their journey together, as they learn about each other, fate, choice, and much more on their adventure to save the world. It is not the first time the world has been saved, however, but it is the first time Mr. Stitches has been challenged by one of his own.
Underhero is a unique title, one that takes elements from both platformers and RPGs. As a side scrolling adventure, you will get some simple 2D Mario vibes early on. That is mostly just for your exploration however, as the combat is a unique situation. It is described as turn based combat without the turns, which is pretty accurate. You have a stamina bar to monitor, and you can slash, jump, hammer, and slingshot to your heart’s desire within your limits stamina wise. This means as opposed to watching things play out, you are actively involved with how things playout while still somewhat playing a waiting game. While certainly unique, in practice it is hit or miss as far as how enjoyable it is. Some fights I found myself being rather impressed by how strategic I could be. Parrying with your shield and ducking or jumping over certain attacks gives you an instant boost in stamina, allowing you to retaliate without being winded (if your stamina is zero you CAN NOT jump or duck, but you can still block with your shield.) This made it worth learning your enemies attack patterns, allowing you to absolutely nail the timing and reap the rewards.
On the other hand though, the game can feel excessively dull and grindy sometimes during combat. The waiting game can be just that sometimes, especially with certain enemies. There is a ghost that attacks by summoning other ghosts, but can be temporarily haltered from attacking if you slingshot his hat off. I would do this, and usually run out of stamina in doing so, which resulted in no action taking place until the ghost got its hat back or until our hero regained some stamina. Then I would knock the hat off again and repeat the cycle again until I reached victory. There is also a robot enemy that sees you do a “Simon says” style input and if successful, you can sneak in one attack before it grabs and taunts you again. It is just a boring enemy to fight. A unique way around some of the duller fights is actually by bribing the enemy. You are seemingly a bad guy, one of them, so if you toss a few coins their way they might just let you walk past uninterrupted. It was a cool feature to not slow you down when trying to get from A to B.
Speaking of getting from A to B, the other half of your gameplay is the traversal, the platforming bits. These are okay. The controls aren’t excessively fluid, nor are the landscapes overly complicated, but it was a bit annoying to not have a map ready to go on command. I did not get lost often, but there were a handful of times I wanted to confirm I was going in the right direction but could not because of the maps stagnate locations in the landscapes. Jumps did not always connect, and fetch quest style objectives felt like a drag to run through. I did, however, really like the look and variety of the worlds. There is a central hub, Mr. Stitches Castle to be exact, that shows you how the minions live in their downtime. You have an apartment there, as do many others, and you can even find keys in the worlds to open treasure filled apartments. Though the other worlds are a bit of your standard variety, the look really good. You have your forest, your haunted house, your secret lab, your tropical island, and of course, your deadly castle. In each hub you can find safe spaces where you can save, drink coffee to regain your health, and shop for consumables from a traveling salesman. The openness gives you a good feel for the RPG elements, and them being sectioned off and slowly unlocked does the platformer duties.
At the end of each of these worlds are of course the bosses. Each of the big bads are of course confused to see a henchman come to give them what for, but fight you none the less. These fights put the best aspects of the game to work, giving you a dynamic fight that blends the platforming and solidified combat into one. Each must be approached and learned differently, which really helped change things up for the better. They all really tie deeply into the games narrative too, which I appreciated more and more as I progressed. I think some characters could have ultimately used some more screen time, but the writing and wittiness really gave everyone a sense of life. That writing, paired with excellent tunes and clean, crisp visuals made for some entertaining segments. Without getting to into the story, it succeeds at flipping the norm on its head, while ultimately following the same path as a typical heroes story would. There are some solid twists and turns though. There are also interjections by a man named Puzzleman that challenges you to a trivia minigame that keeps you on the up and up with the stories on going details.
Underhero has its ups, but it does have some noticeable downs too, and even a few bugs here and there. There is an odd inventory system that does not dispose of found keys for apartments after use, but rather adds another key to your inventory that says used. So you will retain not only the original, but also a copy for whatever reason. There are also pretty consistent screen tears in some areas, though they are minor and do not hurt the gameplay. I was also stricken by a nearly game breaking bug that is STILL in this build although it was known to exist in last year’s PC version. Thankfully I was made aware of a temporary fix, but as of this writing it is still present. Some other minor things are that the hero’s feet do not fully touch the ground on certain textures, and some trap/enemy noises like the motor engine are GOD AWFULLY annoying. As good as the music is, it can grow tiresome when spending too much time in a certain area.
I think Underhero does a lot right, from its funny, heartfelt writing to its great design in both sound and visuals. But it can be a bit of a drag to play in long sittings. I found myself growing tired of the combat system in sessions that carried on over an hour, and the platforming was rather inconsistent to match. With a bit of tweaks, I think this title could surpass itself, but from where I sit right now it is solid, just not great. Fans of a Paper Mario style game might find themselves loving this, particularly on the go if played on Switch, but from my perspective on Xbox One, Underhero sometimes holds itself back to much to be enjoyable long term for the majority of its players.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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