Undermine is a dungeon crawler roguelike game developed & published by Thorium originally in 2019. It plays similar to The Binding of Isaac in many aspects, and today I’m going to give my thoughts on whether I think Undermine is an overlooked golden nugget or a steaming pile of trash.
What is Undermine?
Undermine sees you control a random peasant miner who has been tasked with getting as far into the Undermine as possible. You’ll meet various monstrously powerful enemies, find items, NPCs & secrets whilst exploring. Powerful bosses lurk at the end of each aesthetically themed bundle of floors, each of them offering game changing rewards for defeating them. You can swing your axe, throw it, place bombs and use the elements to battle your foes whilst in the Undermine; expect lots of close combat encounters whilst you jump to dodge enemy projectiles, explosives & pitfalls as you meander down the randomly generated caves of (almost) guaranteed death.
You’re given the very basics at the start of the game, a pickaxe, a gold sack & that’s about it. However, by meeting your inevitable doom whilst in the Undermine you will have picked up lots of gold, the games currency. You will lose most of it when you die as a percentage, so it’s best to find as much as you possibly can to send back up to your next character. Once you have accumulated some gold you’re able to spend this on permanent upgrades for your future suicidal miners.
There are huge choices here in Undermine, and the hub world is where all the big changes to your future runs happen. A visit to the blacksmith will allow you to upgrade your pickaxe for more damage, upgrade your tunic which he presumably stuffs with more and more metal plates each time to increase your health, or increase your gold integrity which allows you to keep a higher percentage of your collected gold when you eventually get your head caved in by a giant rat.
The start of the game for me was fairly gruelling. I wasn’t earning enough gold to afford the upgrades I wanted, and the enemies seemed incredibly powerful for the first few attempts I made. I often died at the point where I had just got enough gold, but the percentage you lose set me back again. But once you get into the swing of looting as much gold as possible, this game really opens up. There are a vast amount of upgrade options which become increasingly more available to you as you hit certain milestones, and these help you tremendously. For example, there are boots that allow you to sprint whilst not in combat (great for bashing through the lower levels), censers that grant you one random blessing when you enter the Undermine, and other various relic style items that can massively impact each future endeavour.
Enter the dungeon!
The Undermine itself is a randomly generated dungeon, with multiple floors for each section. Like I said before, each of the sections in the Undermine will end with a huge boss fight, and these fights will test you. Depending on the items you have picked up during your time in the mines, the bosses can be a breeze or an absolute nightmare. The items you collect make each venture feel very different. The synergy system in place works very well on the majority of items, although there could be more outlandish rarer synergies I would like to find, the game does a good job of balancing out your inner beast most of the time. As with any game in the roguelike genre, you are dealt a random hand, and that could either make you feel like a God or be absolutely crap.
Whilst in the Undermine, you can encounter various NPCs that will either be imprisoned, need your help, or are just looking for a friendly face. All of the NPCs have different outcomes, but many will be rescued upon interacting with them, sending them up to the hub area. Some NPCs will have a huge impact on your game by opening their own unique upgrade shops, and some will just be very good boys and allow you to pet them. Each floor in the Undermine has a standard system of random rooms, accompanied by a shop, item room, secret rooms and prayer rooms. Most rooms are filled with beasties that you’ll need to clear before you move on, and thankfully Undermine has a huge cast of enemies that all have different ways of attacking, meaning that learning each enemies movement & combat patterns is vital to staying alive and progressing further. Each floor you’ll gain access to a new item to help you get stronger from the item room; in the later floors you’ll need keys to open these rooms but the reward is almost always worth it.
Shops sell a wide array of consumables, from food to replenish health, to bombs & keys, to potions that all have unique effects on your character. The shop found in the Undermine can be upgraded to stock more items, and can sometimes have a machine inside called a ‘TRANSMUT3’ that allows you to re-roll all items available to purchase but at at the cost of some health.
Curses and blessings play a big role in each run in Undermine. Blessings can give you huge buffs if stacked, and can increase your damage, health, bomb damage & size, & swing size just to name a few. But the curses in Undermine are so unique, it’s almost fun to find them to add an extra layer of difficulty to the game. I had two curses during one of my run attempts called Rain of Fire & Waking Light. This caused huge issues for me, as lanterns and torches in the dungeon would suddenly shoot fireballs seemingly at random towards my face, and also fire would periodically fall from the ceiling setting anything below it ablaze. Because of the elemental physics in the game, any rooms with oil barrels or spills would instantly become the most intense adrenaline fuelled panic rooms. I would have to dodge explosive oil barrels & spills whilst trying to frantically defeat the enemies at the same time. That run didn’t last long, but it shook the game up enough for me to say “just one more try…”. You’ll be glad to hear that curses can be removed in prayer rooms, and there are a few other methods too. Removing a curse in a prayer room is usually done at the cost of some health, but plan accordingly to that and you should be able to regain that by visiting the shop afterwards etc.
There is so much to do in Undermine. New discoveries are constantly there to be made, and the whole game is about learning. Learning what items suit your play style, what items suit your current build, what items to avoid & how to beat certain enemies. The games tone is set beautifully within a pixel art graphics style, with music that reflects the sense of wonder and adventure you have each time you delve into the caverns below. If you haven’t played it already, Undermine is definitely worth a try & I can wholeheartedly recommend it. I can see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the combat could be improved, but I really enjoyed my time playing Undermine. I am still playing it, and I plan to beat the game. It’s got the great addictive qualities like The Binding of Isaac & Enter The Gungeon, but with its own characteristics that sometimes improves on features from those games, and sometimes doesn’t.