From Bad To Badass
I always enjoy seeing an indie team's take on RPGs. It leads to some impressively creative efforts, the kind that reinvigorate my love for the genre. Or it leads to spectacular failures that make me wonder what was going through anyone's heads. It's 50/50 really. Underhero caught my eye, and a few of my friends decided to jump on the game around the same time. So, why not join them and see how this one pans out? I ended up taking the 15 hours it took to finish Underhero and by the end, I was pretty glad I did.
You play as a skull kid, a member of a race of monsters that work for the evil Mr. Stitches. When the great generational prophesized hero shows up to kill the aforementioned Mr. Stitches, you drop a chandelier on his head and accidentally kill him. Taking up the hero's weapon, a talking sword hilt named Elizabeth IV, the skull kid becomes the next hero and starts off on their own quest to defeat Mr. Stitches. At first, this is a pretty funny parody of RPG stories, spoofing the hero's quest in all the right ways. However, a genuinely surprising third act twist manages to turn Underhero into something a little more, and I found the game managed to stand up on its own just fine.
As for gameplay, Underhero can probably best be compared to the Paper Mario series of "active turn-based combat". You play as the skull kid in battle, and you have a few different actions you can take at any time. Your basic attack lets you swing a sword, a hammer takes longer to swing but does more damage, and you have a slingshot for ranged enemies. Each attack takes a little bit of stamina, which if you let fall too far you'll become tired and unable to move for a bit. This is, of course, a bad thing since it leaves you open to all sorts of attacks.
Have stamina still? Then you don't need to stand there and take it when an enemy attacks. The skull kid can jump over, or duck under, attacks, and each enemy displays little tells that help you figure out which you want to do. For example, a ghost enemy goes to adjust its mask, pushing it either up or down to indicate if it's going to punch high or low. Paying attention to these tells is important, and a successful dodge gets some stamina back so you can quickly go back on the offensive. There's also a rather hilarious, and clever, feature that lets you bribe any monster you don't want to fight.
This is quite a bit of fun, and combat manages to go at the perfect "slow enough for strategy, fast enough to not be boring" pace. I always felt like I was doing something, and the amount of "sitting around waiting for an enemy to act" downtime that RPGs sometimes fall into is really minimal here. Things especially get great during the boss fights, which also work some platforming elements into it. Each boss becomes a hectic affair where you have you dodge attacks, lure it into traps, jump onto and over its weapons, and attack during the times you can get close to it. Each boss fight really did make the game that much better.
Like any RPG, Underhero also has plenty of minigames. The most prominent is a quiz show that shows up once per level. The quiz asks questions and rewards players who take the time to talk to monsters and read up on the lore of each boss and zone. Besides this, there's a snowboarding-like segment, an ice skating rhythm minigame, drink mixing, and more. The usual stuff you can expect from a jRPG and all of it is fine, though a few clearly outstay their welcome.
The soundtrack is also kind of hit or miss. Some parts, like the boss themes, are fantastic. Other songs, such as many of the field themes, get repetitive and lose their luster before long. Underhero is also home to one of the most bizarrely awful level up themes I've ever heard. It doesn't help that several songs seem to have other songs played over them, or sound effects that don't really fit the theme.
Still, Underhero is a joyfully fun RPG with quite a creative twist on combat and storytelling. It may not be another Undertale, but it's still well worth dropping time into. Worst case, you bounce off of the combat and drop the game early in. Stick around, and it's well worth the time investment. Also, there's a shark on a Segway so I'm not sure what more you could want?
TechRaptor played Underhero on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.