Every gamer has at least one friend who complains about how complicated modern games are. The controls, options menus, cross-platform compatibility… it’s all too much, they say. There was a time when games were simpler, more challenging, and more rewarding. There was a time when up-down-left-right-A-B-start-select were all the controls you needed.
Those friends will love Unepic.
This week’s game you haven’t played can be described as a modern tribute to old console games – think NES and Sega Genesis (Megadrive for our British readers). An action-adventure, Metroidvania style game, Unepic would be perfectly at home on a 13-inch screen with a channel-dial and a bit of static fuzz around the edges. Part of this comes from the very simple game design. Its 2D sprites and classic art style will transport you back to the days when you begged your mom for just ten more minutes of Legend of Zelda.
Like the games of yesteryear, Unepic provides a true challenge, and one that any fan of retro gaming will happily undertake. While there is a tutorial, of sorts, most learning on the player’s part will be done in the classic style, which is to say… you’re going to die a lot. There are save points, which makes it much more forgiving than the games it harkens back to, but Unepic also has much more content – easily over twenty hours, and that’s if you don’t explore every nook and cranny of the castle (and get stuck on certain puzzles, like myself). Compared to the miniscule amount of content in the original Super Mario Bros., Unepic is a modern giant of a game.
The sheer amount of content isn’t the only modern thing about it. Despite its humble appearance, there is quite a lot of voice-acting, the quality of which puts a good number of modern games to shame (I’m looking at you, Fallout: New Vegas). The writing is also quite cheeky and clever. Hopefully, you’re a fan of pop-culture references, because you’’ be treated to quips regarding Star Wars, Spaceballs, The Matrix, and other nerd favorites. While the bombardment of geekiness could easily get annoying quite quickly, I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t. A lot of it is slipped naturally into the conversation. Even the more abrupt references (Daniel: “Pardon me. What is that on the floor over there?” Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a trap!”) are amusing enough to forgive the cheese.
The main character, Daniel, starts out playing a D&D game with some friends, goes to the bathroom, and ends up in a scary castle with all the standard beasties and baddies you’d expect – skeletons, bats, goblins… even bees.
Don’t get me started on the bees.
Almost immediately, Daniel gets possessed by a malevolent spirit… y’know, as you do. Except it turns out that, for reasons unknown, the spirit is powerless to affect Daniel’s actions and can only talk to him, remaining stuck in his body until it dies. Rather, until it dies permanently, because save points.
Also, due to the game being so self-aware and trope-heavy, there are quite a few unexpected twists. The writers know what players think will happen next, and deliberately take a different direction every now and then, just to keep you on your toes. This is a very, very good thing. Pop-culture references and genre-appropriate jokes are great, but when the player knows exactly what to expect, even the funniest jokes won’t stop you from getting bored.
And here I am nearly forgetting one of the most important aspects of the game – the RPG part. The good news is that the character system is similar to a pen-and-paper RPG. You get stats, skills, and an inventory. It gives you the option to mix and match skills and whatnot as you like, so you can be an axe-wielding fire mage if you really want to (and, oh, I do). The bad news is that this also gives you the freedom to make an unplayable character. For example, if you decide to go full soldier/melee, some bosses will become more or less unbeatable, and you’ll be forced to create a new character.
Regardless, the RPG portion of the game makes every playthrough feel unique, which is important for any side-scroller. It helps that the addition of a proper character sheet rounds out the classic feel of the game, and gives a distinct nod to D&D, which was the launching point of the whole plot.
Unepic is packed with laughs and allows us to scratch the itch that can only be satisfied by retro-gameplay. Speaking of gameplay, there’s quite a bit of it for a relatively small indie game. As of September 2017, over three years after the game’s initial launch, a new map was released, which is enough to make you reinstall it and play the whole thing over again.
And if that’s not enough to entice you, try this: Unepic is available PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, and Mac. In other words, if you own any gaming platform aside from a smart phone, you can play it. Oh, and it’s only about $13.
So, what’s your excuse?
Have you played Unepic? Been considering it? Share your thoughts in the comments!