There’s been a heatwave where I live and it’s drained the life out of everything. I can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm. I try to play a game and my attention span melts like an ice cube and I’m bored within five minutes and turn it off. I haven’t got the patience for games to reel me in. Thank god I bumped into UnderMine.
It’s like a distilled version of Zelda on SNES. The moment I saw it, I perked up because it’s perky. It’s got that toy-like quality those old games used to have. A pixelated chunkiness you feel like you can almost reach out and grab. Chunky wooden tables and cobbled stone floors in a crumbly cave. Strong colours, bold shapes, and cellos plunking in the background. And energy: straight away energy. Characters waiting to be moved and a wizard impatiently calling me in from the other room to tell me I’m to go down and explore the caves and find out why we’re having earthquake tremors. And that’s it: motivation sorted in about a minute. Now: play.
Technically, UnderMine is quite a lot like Zelda too, if Zelda were confined to a dungeon. You run around fighting a host of friendly-looking enemies with your pickaxe, either swinging it or throwing it, while dodging traps and avoiding holes. You collect bombs to blow down barriers and reveal hidden areas, and you find keys to open locked doors. Along the way, you’ll find potions and power-ups, which you’ll collect with a spin and a triumphant arm held high. My favourite is a power-up for my ranged attack which makes my pickaxe ricochet off enemies like a pinball, meaning I can lob it at one enemy and then it independently cannons around doing my work for me.
But unlike Zelda, there’s gold mining. It’s a big part of the game, hence the name. You’ll see gold veins and need to swing at them a few times before they’ll release what they’ve got. When you do, harmless little slime blobs appear trying to steal your gold from you, but you can simply whack them away.
And also unlike Zelda, you don’t reload when you die, you start again as a different character. Well that’s not quite true: you don’t entirely start again. You see, all is not lost. You’ll see a death animation showing all of your collected gold erupting from you but some of it will be saved. A small portion will be given to the new character you’re playing to spend before they head out.
You can use the money to buy equipment and upgrades which also carry over when you die, and you can collect blueprints for crafting powerful item power-ups although these will drop with your character when you die (although apparently you can recollect them on subsequent runthroughs). And so it becomes that, loop by try-die loop, what you can achieve in UnderMine increases. You will do more damage, you will lose less gold, you will save and therefore unlock more vendors, and you will have more keys and better bombs for accessing more areas while you delve. Cumulatively, you’ll begin to succeed.
It’s difficult, I’m not going to lie. You will die unceremoniously until you learn to take more care, and learn how your enemies attack. But soon you’ll be getting further. Soon, you’ll be killing bosses and vacuuming up the fountain of loot that erupts from them. And bit by bit the nuances of UnderMine will open before you. But don’t worry about all that now. For now, just play it.