Looking at Underground without knowing anything about its basic concept will probably leave you unimpressed. It does not have great graphics or a great story, but Grendel Games came up with a very cool idea in matters of controls and puzzle game mechanics, hoping that Underground can develop into something bigger than a simple eShop release on Wii U.
The idea of designing a game that will assist medical students on important surgery lessons seems at first glance impressive. In Underground, you are controlling two big mechanical arms in order to help some funny looking robots escape a dark cave. These arms are moving similar to a laparoscopic surgery and this feature is the true key-point of this interesting concept.
Underground’s backstory is not really groundbreaking, since everything is told by small (good-looking) cutscenes and without any actual dialogue. The music does a decent job in supporting the movements of our female hero and the small robots that are “imprisoned” by her father (he is actually very mean if you think about it). The backstory feels nonetheless a little bit “thin”. It’s not bad, but I cannot claim that I was emotionally attached to my mechanical “friends” or to Sari who wants to help them escape from this mine.
Some of the puzzles will make you forget about the story anyway, since they are not always easy and you are constantly thinking about which rock to destroy or which platform to use in order to help them reach a higher platform. The little robots are waiting patiently for your big robotic arms to fix broken paths, create new underground “roads” and even eradicate some enemies in order to lead them to the next level. You cannot control their actual movement, but you can choose which way they should follow based on your actions.
The developers did a great job in explaining how to use the three different mechanical arms during the first levels. They added some easy to follow tutorials, small worlds and enough text in order to understand the concept of controlling your mechanical arms with two analogue sticks on the Wii U Gamepad. Each arm can operate as a grabbing tool, a typical drill or a thermal torch and you can use them for example to melt ice, kill some monsters or collect materials in order to create some platforms. It is very important to take your time during the first levels and focus on the in-game tutorials. It will make the more complex levels more enjoyable, since they also feature the placing of small bridges, big elevators and even boss fights!
As I said in the beginning of this review, the graphics are not really impressive and sometimes the actual setting seems a little bit boring or repetitive. While I can understand that you cannot create a beautiful world if you are constantly grinding in a mine, you can feel during the whole process that this is a small eShop title. You will not get the Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker-looks, but it will not make you lose any interest on the actual content and its puzzle elements. There are 3-4 levels that were very entertaining to the eye and I hope that next time they will try to replicate more of the better graphical moments.
The controls are in my opinion the only aspect that troubled me more than once. There are moments where they feel a little bit clunky, especially when trying to zoom-in and out. The sense of depth has also some issues in how you perceive some things that are going on your screen. Luckily, Underground is forgiving in some occasions, as for example when accidentaly dropping materials down the cliff. They reappear in the same spot you picked them up earlier and trust me, you won’t mind this “unrealistic” approach by the game developers. This decision serves the player, it keeps the flow of the game going on and secures a happy gaming experience without the need of restarting the level because you dropped something by accident or loose controls.
Nevertheless, the fact that you don\’t control the actual movement of the robots will force you to restart many levels because of the extra collectibles. Since Underground has some issues with controls and looks, I would definitely welcome the option of clicking on the small robots and making them turn around in order to get a collectible you might have missed. It would be against the basic concept of Underground, but with a title like this, which was definitely created for an impressive proprietary accessory, an option like this would make me overlook some of its flaws. It has to be more forgiving when using the analogue sticks, because you are missing its good moments when you are constantly trying to master the sensitive controls of two “independent” arms that have to be used many times simultaneously for different tasks (for example, keeping away slimy tongues, while building a small bridge). In addition to this, there is no real reward for getting all the collectibles or finishing the level without losing any of your robots, so you will quickly start to finishing each world without thinking about doing a “flawless victory”.
I cannot help but feel that Underground would still be a great game for doctors who own this proprietary (and expensive for a simple gamer) accessory that uses two Wii Remotes and two Nunchucks. You have to be precise, plan everything in the right order and “emulate” a laparoscopic surgery. For everyone else, Underground is an interesting puzzle game that has an intriguing concept that cannot be fully experienced with standard controls. I would love someday to get my hands on this unique Wii Remote-tool and experience the core elements of Underground, even without being a medical student. Until then, I will enjoy some moments of brilliance, I will get occasionally frustrated with losing some robots on the road due to its tricky and problematic gameplay, but at the end of the day, I can say that I have experienced a unique title that portrays educational aspects of video gaming in a good shape.