- Platform PC, Wii U eShop
- Publisher Ninagamers Corp.
- Developer Franciso Tellez de Meneses
- Release Date 30/09/2011
Picture this: you’re spending an evening with friends playing some table top Dungeons & Dragons when – after your fourth beer or so – you let the cleric and the goblin duke it out while you head to the bathroom to relieve yourself. Then…
Everything goes dark.
You spark your trusty Zippo for some illumination. Around you is a room with stone walls, cobwebs dangling from the ceiling and skeletons with spears sticking out their rib cages. A dream? Maybe. An hallucination? Most likely. Either way, let’s take a look around…
Unepic is a 2D action RPG inspired by Konami’s 1987 platformer Knightmare II: The Maze of Galious, though this open map gameplay style is now affectionately termed ‘Metroidvania’. First hitting digital distribution in 2011, Spanish indie developer Franciso Téllez de Meneses faced rejection when he tried to get the game published on Steam but managed to score the votes needed in GreenLight about a year later. The Steam community wanted this game and now they have it, at least the single player mode. Multiplayer is still in development and is playable as early access testing, and thus will not be critiqued in this review.
The protagonist is just a regular nerd with a goatee named Daniel who has the typical traits of a gamer in the 25-35 year old age bracket. He smokes a bit of pot, plays a lot of video games, he loves sci-fi movies and isn’t very successful with women. Through a sudden and mysterious event he has been transported into a very poorly lit castle known as Harnakon, a medieval mountain top citadel riddled with monsters, traps and strange characters with even stranger stories to tell. An (un)epic quest ensues; defeat the guardians, free the imprisoned spirits and get Daniel back home to finish his D&D game with his friends.
It’s a plot formula that we are all familiar with (save the weird bathroom portal to a nether world) but with these throwback-style games it isn’t as much about being original as it is how the developer chooses to honour their inspirations. Within the first 20 minutes it was obvious that Daniel is a parody of his creator Francisco, not just from the countless pop culture references but with the attitude Daniel expressed to his surroundings.
The inclusion of a spirit that attempt to possess Daniel and fails (but gets trapped in his body) gives a reason for Daniel to carry along a reluctant sidekick, who sometimes unwittingly gives away Harnakon’s secrets but will also try to get the guy killed at every opportunity. The conversations sometimes get a bit tiresome but for the most part serve their purpose in helping the player progress.
Francisco’s personal and cultural background are evidenced everywhere, from college toilet humour, to ubiquitous expletives in the dialogues, to quests dredged up from a cheap Leisure Suit Larry knockoff. The last two can be censored with the game’s 12+ mode (as opposed to the regular +16 adult mode) but it leaves little wonder as to why Steam originally rejected the game for publication.
Give Me Light
It’s the little details that Francisco laboured over that make Unepic a game that kept me coming back.
As the premise of the game suggests, this castle is dark. Unlit torches and oil lamps are on every wall throughout the dungeons and are a clever addition to show which rooms I had explored. I needed to dim the lights around my monitor to see what’s going on sometimes, particularly when the flicker of a torch could be easily mistaken for the flutter of a bat’s wings or when I was on the receiving end of an ambush from a caster lurking in the shadows. It felt like I was reading by candlelight at the start, but as I lit more and more of the castle (achievements pop up at milestones 25, 50, 75 and 100 percent milestones) I began to feel the satisfaction of bathing an entire room in the soft fiery glow. Running around by candlelight does bring another level of suspense, even for a 2D platformer. I lost count the number of times I turned around and swung at my own shadow.
Controls are of the old school platformer variety with precise jumps needed to avoid attacks and the occasional lava pit. Melee combat was responsive with weapon speeds and enchantments effects being reflected accurately by the swing and thrust. Bows and wands were mandatory for taking out annoying creatures like the stealthy bats and spiders that explode into poisonous gas clouds, but the targeting lock got a little finicky with multiple targets and trying to switch between them wasn’t the smoothest operation. The combat isn’t perfect or as slick as say Mark of the Ninja, but for being able to use a variety of loot comparable to a triple A action RPG, it was consistently enjoyable.
There is a plethora of pointy ends to find and stick your enemies with, and the right weapon always seemed to drop at the right time. The powerful tank enemies, for example, could be held at range with the pike which I found in a discreet chest in the previous room. It wasn’t essential that I found that pike, but my thoroughness for checking all the corners paid off with a bonus against the next enemy.
But the really exciting combat begins several hours into game when you start to unlock spells, should you choose to spend your talent points in those areas. Hurling flames across the screen to obliterate squads of skeletons seems routine in so many other RPGs, but when you’ve worked your ass off for hours with an axe to qualify for the power, the ability is all the more satisfying.
It’s the little details that Francisco laboured over that make Unepic a game that kept me coming back. It took me awhile to find the reason I was slowly bleeding health with no poisons or spell effects – a leech had found it’s way onto my person from the sewers and had to be physically squashed in my inventory. The grid map let me make my own notes so I knew where the dead ends were and where I needed the next key. Scrolls and potions are integral to making it through boss battles and if you die, the heavy metal guitar riff sounds (that sounds like it’s straight from Jack Black’s Pick of Destiny) never gets old. In fact, the entire soundtrack is awesome.
It isn’t until you have explored two or three zones of the castle when you realise how big this game actually is. There is at least 20 hours in the single player alone and for the $7.99 price tag, it outranks many of the Steam Store’s offerings in the Under $10 bargain bin. Even if you never reach the end, you’ll obsess about how close you got.
Down In The Dungeon
Old school gamers will love this passionate throwback to the Metroidvania era, with a legitimate RPG levelling system to boot. A night of exploring dungeons, fun hack and slash combat, and humorous dialogue - turn the lamps down low and watch your back. Just be mindful when you get up from your game to go pee, you may end up in the adventure yourself.