Whether a straight up homage like Guacamelee!, or a deconstructed take on the genre like last year’s wonderful Luigi’s Mansion sequel, when executed with panache, the Metroidvania-style videogame structure is still capable of dazzling. It has also been well-used by indie developers, who have wielded the template with aplomb on great titles like Cave Story.
Unepic is the latest beloved independent title to get a console release, and one that borrows heavily from exploratory platformers of the past, injecting a healthy and well-implemented dose of role-playing rules into the mix. It is also tougher than hell. When was the last time you played a game without a pause button? It is also carried along by a very funny plot chock-full of knowing videogame and geek-tastic references and some truly superb voice acting, which inspires emotional investment and makes it more than just another rpg-tinged platformer.
Your avatar is Daniel, who takes what should have been a regulation restroom break from some Dungeons & Dragons which ends with him being sucked into a world of monsters and clichéd platform adventuring , with only a lighter at his disposal to begin with.
Gameplay is fairly standard action-platform stuff, which is spiced up by the way you can choose how to level up and customise Danny boy with the experience you receive from progression and defeating enemies. You can beef up his melee combat stats to make his fighting abilities more pronounced, or take him down the magic route and improve his proficiency with wands and spells. Combat isn’t particularly deep here, although as you would expect some enemies are weaker against particular attacks or spells, and it’s up to you to work out the best strategy to defeat them.
If you’re playing on your telly, the GamePad is used to select weapons and equipment and access the map, with the entire area in which Daniel finds himself shown on the big screen. If you want to play off-screen, there is an intuitive hotkey system that lets you switch between items and weapons in real time, which makes matching the right tools for the right job a breeze whichever way you want to set up your Wii U. A handy tutorial guides you through the basics of the game and is a welcome addition for newcomers.
As you progress, Unepic introduces new things to tinker around with, such as pets, side-quests, and a deep item-crafting system that gives you access to a ridiculous amount of items and weapons. You will find yourself killed instantly, a lot. You will encounter foes that steal your weapons or turn them into harmless toys. Some of the enemies are even invisible, which can be very annoying. Anyone complaining about the difficulty should realise from the old-school graphics and blatant Castlevania influence that this isn’t going to be an easy one to beat. It is at times reminiscent of the hellishly difficult games of yore – the Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and Wizards & Warriors of this world – and as such may frustrate younger gamers not used to being crushed by Megaman-levels of gaming terror.
VERDICT: Originally a PC release, the Wii U is a fine platform for Unepic, and it’s another worthwhile addition to the eShop library. It can be quite frustratingly difficult at times, and the constant geeky references to everything from Star Wars to the worlds of Gary Gygax may not sit well with everyone – one particular misfiring side quest involving bureaucrats may be enough to turn off some gamers – but for those who enjoy old school platform action, this generously sized Spanish-crafted effort will be manna from heaven.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.