The Chestnut Kingdom has been protected for aeons by the Chosen Hero, their task to collect the three mythical stones and defeat a great evil is a legend. The Chosen Hero has never failed despite the odds stacked against them. But what happens when the latest hero falls short of his task at the final hurdle? Underhero from Paper Castle Games aims to help us find out.
In Underhero, Scarf Boy, the Chestnut Kingdom’s most recent Chosen Hero, is unwittingly taken out within the final castle by a group of lowly minions arguing about their role in the legend. The one remaining minion left is coerced by the Hero’s ancient, magical weapon into taking up the hero’s mantle and defeating evil. Given that we are at the end of the quest though it’s not quite straight-forward. In order to gain the power needed to defeat the evil Mr Stitches, your character must take a reverse journey through the domain of Mr Stitches, deliver the ancient stones back to the area bosses and gather the strength to finally defeat Mr Stitches himself.
A side-scrolling, RPG adventure, Underhero follows most 2D platforming adventures until the point of meeting an enemy or adversary at which point the game transforms into an Active Time Battle RPG where the Hero’s actions at any time are restricted by the amount of stamina available to them. Differing attacks are opened up across the game’s first few hours including a standard sword attack, a ranged variant, a heavy hammer swing and a special “Rush Mode” for overpowered combos. Each attack consumes Stamina from the gauge and this replenishes over time slowly, making battle more tactical rather than a button-mashing affair.
Underhero also intertwines some rhythm-based controls into standard gameplay which when utilised correctly offer some significant advantages. Standard attacks which strike in time with the background beat earn the hero a “groovy” rank which momentarily stuns an adversary in addition to dealing a critical hit boosting damage. The rush mode takes this to the next level allowing the Hero to string together moves while stamina remains and increases the duration and damage of those strings if it’s played out with the background music track. This is hard to initially use correctly, but is extremely powerful once you understand how best to use it.
Every enemy you encounter also has multiple attacks on offer. Each of these are telegraphed by an enemies actions during battle, these in turn determine the type of evasive manoeuvre the Hero must use to avoid damage. Successfully avoiding damage can be done by jumping, ducking or utilising a shield in a ‘just in time’ parry mechanic. Any of these reward the player with a boost to stamina regeneration allowing more attacks to be deployed in quicker succession. The shield can also be used in a standard manner but relies on its own energy gauge that — once depleted — destroys the shield until you can repair it with an item or at the various shops.
Given that we started out as an evil underling, some of the monsters and henchmen we bump into won’t immediately attack you. Before you strike the first blow you also have the option of speaking with them for hints or elements of the backstory or detail on the area you are currently exploring. In a nice nod to the scruples of most nefarious types, you also have the option of spending coin to bribe your enemies to leave the encounter and render them docile for the remainder of the game, this works well in some areas but you don’t get the same experience for paying off enemies that you do for laying the smackdown.
Experience is earned by defeating enemies (or bribing them) and is used to level up the new Hero, at the point of reaching the next level the Hero can choose between increasing health, increasing damage or increasing stamina. Once players master the mechanics it’s likely that most will stay away from health points since you will rarely be hit by the telegraphed attacks and your parry/shield will always be there for a late save. Additionally, a number of upgrades can be found within the world which also increase each of these attributes so with some careful exploration players will still improve their base statistics.
Each area that the Hero explores also functions as a local hub for sub-areas, generally themed in the same way and with various locked off areas subject to earning or finding keys to allow you to progress. Each area also has a unique mechanic to be unlocked and utilised before you can progress with building the complexity of the puzzles encountered until the final stages. The second area, for example, has the Hero befriend a ghostly hand with a magic candle which helps lighten dark areas, but can be extinguished by various environmental hazards and enemies.
In addition to the main quest, there are a number of side quests dotted around each hub area. These quests generally involve hunting down certain items or characters and reward the Hero with additional money and upgrades, alternately it can unlock special areas where further enemies and rewards can be found. Players also discover the Puzzle Man at predetermined times within the quest, a character who keeps quizzing the Hero with his knowledge of the areas inhabitants and their backstory.
A fun, colourful platformer with some enjoyable RPG mechanics intermix to create an interesting blend of action and strategy in Underhero.