Being a fan of metroidvanias – a genre of games defined by their Castlevania and Metroid inspirations – I jumped at the chance to play Unepic after seeing the initial trailers. Here was a game that took the best of an aging genre and infused it with new life on new platforms.
Upon passing inspection, Unepic could seem like any other modern metroidvania, but it is so much more. The game takes many of the archaic mechanics and steeps them in common sense and utility. Everything that marks the metroidvanias you love are present; dark labyrinthine hallways, hordes of enemies waiting to crush the simplest mistake, hidden upgrades galore.
Unepic plays off of many of the tropes found in RPGs, not to mention metroidvania mechanics. Much of the humor in the game plays off of videogame stereotypes and how little sense they make. For example, early on in the game the player character Daniel comments on how he’d like to use a sword to kill ghosts, and the demon inhabiting his body observes how that doesn’t make any sense. The dialogue is very well voiced, even if the nonstop nerdy pop-culture references can get a bit thin towards the end of the game. Despite the weakness of the plot, the game is very self-aware how trite the protagonist’s motivations for exploring a deadly dungeon full of bloodthirsty monsters can be, and tries to play off that as well.
Nearly every RPG mechanic you can think of is bound up in Unepic somehow. Leveling, manual distribution of stats, different weapon types with equating damage types, armor classes, pets, etc. While this may seem like a good idea from a fan perspective, it seems like a mess design-wise and detracts from the overall experience of one of the greatest joys in metroidvania game: exploration. This is unfortunate, since Unepic does exploration very very well. Exploration of the castle is done in a classic retro screen-by-screen style, with each “screen” being represented as a room on your map and there being a moment of loading when you exit it. When you first enter a room, it can be completely dark, hiding entire floors or hallways. But as you make your way through the enemies, you can light scones and torches that permanently brighten areas on screens and reveal more of the map. The game alerts you with a tone when you light all torches in a room, letting you know that you’ve found every exit. Cleverly, this lets you know to stop hunting for another ladder or door on your hunt for loot and progression.
As you proceed through the game, you can buy and sell equipment to vendors found through-ought the castle. Luckily, your inventory is huge at 100 slots. The caveat is that managing such a large inventory can actually become cumbersome. Between trying to find a particular item (because many of the potions look very similar due to the 16-bit styled artwork) and reorganizing fast equipping buttons, you may spend a lot of time just standing around navigating menus instead of slashing your way through evil minions. On the topic of the artwork, it is beautifully done, but in some situations like the menu systems, it does detract from the overall experience. With so much of the castle being dark as well, a lot of it seems to go to waste.
Intelligently enough, there are a few systems that allow fast travel through the castle. You can gain items/spells that let you jump directly towards a merchant or the save point. Also, there is a hub point of connected doors that you gradually unlock, leading all over the castle and allowing for relatively quick travel to specific areas. The single save point is explained by the story, but honestly makes much more sense than there being scattered across a castle.
All of this modernization aside, Unepic doesn’t seem to take advantage of the particular hardware it’s finally landed on. Equipment and items can be bound towards hot keys which are a combination of a shoulder button and a direction pad press. More often than not, I found myself hitting the wrong shoulder button or key in a panic as I tried to swap weapon types to deal with a sudden enemy rushing at me. Even quickly healing yourself is fiddly. The PS4 version doesn’t seem to take any advantage of the touchpad, which is surprising since it might’ve made a controls a bit more intuitive. Vita controls seem to be even more of a wasted opportunity. Unepic does not take advantage of its touch screen capabilities when they could have made item switching a breeze.
Overall, I’d say Unepic is a fun and engaging title that tries too little across too many fronts to solidly deliver a truly epic experience. If some of the combat mechanics had been dropped to simplify things and refine the UI and general game interface, this game could have truly shined. Despite its messy interface though, if you’re hungering from some old school RPG and metroidvania fun, I’d give Unepic a try.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Vita; Publisher: Francisco Téllez de Meneses; Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses; Players: 1; Released: March 29, 2016 (PS4, Vita) ;
Full Disclosure: A review copy of Unepic was provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.