Unepic Nintendo Switch Review
Publisher: Francis Cota
Release Date: December 15th, 2017
Daniel is just a regular guy who likes to play Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. One day, he is in the middle of a game when he suddenly needs to take a bathroom break. The lights eerily go out, and he is left quite literally urinating in the dark. Thinking that his friends pulled a prank on him, he equips his trusty lighter only to find out he had been teleported into a creepy castle!
This is where the story of Unepic begins. Believing that he is just experiencing a hallucination allowing him to live out his fantasies in an RPG world, he decides to begin haphazardly exploring. No harm could possibly come to him because this is all just a figment of his active imagination, right?
Within a short time, Daniel encounters a threatening, hooded spirit named Ankora-Bash. The spirit’s goal is to protect the castle from any would-be adventurers. Standing up to it with impeccable confidence, Daniel is quickly overwhelmed as the spirit enters his body in a bid to take possession of him. However, there was one factor the spirit did not anticipate: Daniel’s complete and utter lack of faith. Without this, the spirit could not gain dominion over his being and thus fell victim to a prison of flesh. Until Daniel’s untimely death, Ankora-Bash cannot regain his freedom. And thus begins your adventures together.
Ankora-Bash as a constant companion adds much to the writing and atmosphere of the game. He constantly belittles you and frequently gives you bad advice in attempts to kill you. After all, you dying means his freedom! However, beware for he is a tricky spirit. Sometimes his advice will save you, and other times it will spell out your death. This element of the game is unique because companions in video games generally support you and help keep you safe. It is not so in Unepic. Your unwilling companion is a spirit who wishes for nothing more than your death, and he will try everything he can to lead you to your demise. This is what it would have been like if Navi in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was constantly trying to kill you.
The writers of Unepic take many jabs at video game RPG logic such as being able to easily kill ghosts with swords. While Daniel was playing D&D, he suggested shooting a walking skeleton with a bow and arrow. He was quickly reprimanded by his friends for suggesting something as ridiculous as that. “The best RPGs let you use common sense,” retorts his friend before striking it down with a holy spell. You will find many situations in this game which utilize logic such as this which only serves to strengthen the writing.
Unepic is absolutely filled with references to other games and movies, and this is frequently demonstrated through Daniel’s love of popular media. You will see these references frequently whether it is Daniel comparing himself with Simon Belmont from Castlevania, characters very similar to Star Wars characters, or him talking about wanting to follow common RPG logic. If it works in a video game, it should work here sums up his line of thinking.
The story is revealed to you as you progress mostly through frequent interactions between Daniel and Ankora-Bash. What initially begins as a carefree romp in a fantastic RPG-inspired hallucination slowly grows into an epic campaign through a massive, legendary castle to free pure spirits from their golden prisons and take down the lord of the castle, Harnakon. You will battle orcs, giant ants, 7 massive bosses called guardians and many other creatures along the way.
Drums and horns are used to great effect in this game’s soundtrack. Some voice work which sounds like war cries are smoothly integrated into the music. I found the music to be one of the highlights of the game. It is atmospheric and has a medieval feel which is absolutely perfect for the setting. Listening to the songs as you explore makes you feel like you are out on an epic quest.
My favorite song was the song from the gardens stage. It reminded me of music from Castlevania and holds up to it well. The song moves along at a quick 1-2 beat and features the piano and guitar. Each note is short and distinct. It transitions from a series of four low notes to a high note on the fifth and then vice versa for the next measure. It carries on like that with a nice drum beat in the background. That particular song struck me as the standout song of the soundtrack.
Every single line of dialogue and even most instructions in Unepic are voice acted. They really went an extra mile in this regard. I was very impressed to see so much voice acting in such a cheap indie title. The voice actors do a fine job as well. The voices suit the characters, but the acting is a little dry. This somehow feels like it was a style the devs were aiming for. The voice actors sound like people sitting around their table getting into roles for a game.
There was one problem I noticed with the voice work. While almost every line is acted out, the recording quality is little on the low side. When they speak, there is a slight echo and the sound bleeds. If you find yourself unable to get used to this, it is possible to completely turn off the voices from the menu. Doing this gives the game a little bit more of a classic feel as well. Ultimately, I grew accustomed to the shoddy voice recording, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the overall experience whatsoever.
This is a game designed to look like an SNES-era game while having modern lighting effects and highly detailed and distinguishable character models. As you traipse through the castle with your trusty lighter, shadows flicker and bounce off of nearby pillars. If you come across torches on the map, light them up then bask in their glorious glow!
I was impressed with how light interacts with objects in the game world. As you slowly walk past a ladder with your trusty lighter in hand and a competing light source from the other side of the ladder, the shadows cast from each rung slowly move back toward the center of the ladder fading as it does so. While you pass by a group of barrels, the light wraps around each contour with a dynamic highlight while the other side fades into darkness. You can light a torch then walk away noticing how the shadows spread in all directions and flicker from every object and enemy within its radius.
The lighting impressed me so much because of this game’s visual style. It is a 16-bit style game with mostly 2D models and a few 3D-modeled enemies in the mix. Lighting in games such as these generally doesn’t receive much focus and is rather static, but having great lighting in a dark and dank castle setting adds greatly to the atmosphere and the mood.
This game exemplifies the beauty of simple, hand-drawn 2D sprites with detailed backdrops. Cobwebs hang from the ceilings in almost every corner and water drips down mossy walls in the sewers. Skeletons of long-dead forlorn adventures decorate the desolate hallways. Occasionally, they will have weapons sticking out of them indicating how they died or might even be laying over a trap. There are dozens of small details within the stage and enemy designs which are easy to simply pass by without noticing but are greatly satisfying when they do pop out to you.
Monsters of all varieties roam the castle. Enormous, slow and slithering maggots crawl along the floor, and powerful satyrs (goat men) strut about confidently with wide shoulders. Atop their heads are two curved horns and they have protruding beards extending from their chins. Skeleton archers rain down arrows on you from afar and explode in a glorious eruption of bones as they are slain. Orc cooks stare at you menacingly with deadly red eyes while bearing a bloody apron, hatchet and a cute little cook’s hat. These are only a few of the enemies you will encounter in the castle, and each one has an equal amount of love and care invested into their designs.
Our intrepid hero also benefits from the wonders of good design and isn’t limited to one clothing set. He is an average-looking young man with a goatee wearing a T-shirt and some jeans. As he explores the castle, he will find other clothes he can change into. He can attain a suit of brown leather armor which has a distinct belt, shoulder straps and is wrinkled around the waist. He can also equip a set of green rogue clothes which are smooth all around and just look like they would offer good mobility. There is also a red sorcerer’s cloak which drapes all around him to the ground. And fear not. If you want to, he can explore the castle in his polka dotted underwear with his glorious beer belly hanging out.
From the moment you enter the title screen, you will be struck with how well this title achieves its target of looking and feeling like a classic title from the NES and SNES era. As a gamer who grew up in those times, this sort of art style in games is very appealing, and it is very beautiful when it is well done as it is in Unepic.
Unepic runs flawlessly on the Switch. I had no issues with slowdown whatsoever. I didn’t discover any bugs (which couldn’t be killed), and the game didn’t crash once. This is a very stable game, and I can confidently say that you should have no worries about it.
The touchscreen has been perfectly implemented for handheld mode. All of the menus can be completely controlled by touch. Also, your inventory screen is extensive, and it is incredibly useful to be able to select items simply by touching them. On top of that, you can touch an item, hold it, and then move it over another space to organize your inventory. Convenience is important in a game with so much inventory management, so I was relieved to see that they went an extra mile to incorporate this feature.
Another unique factor the devs took into account for the Switch is a custom screen panel for handheld mode which can be toggled from the menu. While playing in docked mode, there are a few panels on the bottom side of the screen which show important information such as what quest you are doing, your item hotkeys and recent events from the current play session. While in handheld mode, if you activate the handheld panels option, the panels will disappear and the camera focuses much better on the action. There is a lot less screen clutter which helps while playing on the smaller screen. Then, if you touch the screen, it will bring up a second screen which has all of that information present in an orderly fashion. On top of that, you can then touch the items you have set to your hotkeys to change out to them quickly.
Unepic may be the most well-optimized, non-Nintendo game I have yet encountered on the Switch. They did an outstanding job in this regard. In my opinion, they have set a standard on the Switch which other companies, including Nintendo, should strive to achieve.
Unepic is a Metroidvania-styled game where you will roam through extensive maze-like floors of a massive castle. It plays and controls very similarly to the first Castlevania game although exploration is more like the post-Symphony of the Night games. Your jumps have extremely limited aerial control and you just hammer on the attack button to perform basic attacks. There are no fancy combos here. However, the depth of this game comes from the heavy RPG elements implemented down to its very core. This is at its heart and soul an epic Dungeons and Dragons quest come to life in the form of classic, hacking and slashing Castlevania.
Daniel’s inherent abilities are rather limited. He can swing his weapons and can only perform single jumps, but you will not find much else that he can do. His jumps don’t have much control either. You will jump but then cannot change his trajectory in midair. The only time you can is if you jump while standing still then hold over in one direction when he is at the peak of his jump. However, this isn’t a bad thing at all. This is designed to control much like how jumping in Super Ghouls and Ghosts or in the original Castlevania games did. The basic attacking and lack of aerial mobility simplifies this aspect of the game making it more approachable for a wider audience while also appealing to fans of those classic games. In my opinion, that limiting factor actually improved the experience over if he had extra abilities. It allows the game to focus more on his equipment and magic which I think was the right decision for the direction the devs wished to take the game in.
There are no special inputs for combo attacks in this game, but many enemies have specific weaknesses and resistances to certain kinds of weapons. For example, the giant larvae enemies are weak to maces and axes but resist swords. Skeletons are hardly damaged by swords or arrows, but they quickly succumb to magic, staves and maces. Almost every enemy has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you must experiment to find out what items work in each situation.
An excellent item hotkey system allows you to set up 12 items for quick and convenient use. This is absolutely necessary due to the nature of enemy weaknesses. It is unwise to rely on one weapon type for the entirety of the game unless you are attempting to challenge yourself. To assign an item to a hotkey, move over it in the inventory with your courser. Then, hold L, R or L+R while pressing one of the face buttons on the right Joycon. After doing so, if you press that combination while playing, Daniel will immediately equip or use it. Since the game doesn’t pause while you are in the menu screen, using the hotkeys is vital to your survival.
One drawback to the system of setting items to a hotkey while in handheld mode is that you have to exit your inventory screen after setting each hot key. Thus, if you want to set multiple hot keys or make a mistake, you will have to enter your inventory several times. This can be annoying and slightly taxing on the experience. Overall, it isn’t a big problem because you won’t need to set hot keys so frequently, but it would be nice if that were changed in a future update. Also, this does not happen while the game is in docked mode.
You will find that not every weapon is just a basic weapon. You will also discover equipment with magical properties. These are color coded based on their rarity. Items with a white description have no effects; if they are blue, the item is a common magic item; if it is green, it is rare; and if it is gold, then it is a unique item. The unique items are powerful and also have special designs which always make them interesting to find. Unique items are generally found as rewards for completing quests, so be sure to do every quest you come across.
Some of the weapons have great effects which you don’t normally see in other games of this nature. For example, there is a sword with the ability to absorb the souls of slain enemies to cause it to light aflame. This not only does extra fire damage, but it also provides you with an extra light radius and looks intimidating, too. Other effects include doing extra damage to certain enemy types or occasionally doing a fast double attack.
Rings are items of great value in Unepic. These have a great number of effects, and you can have up to eight equipped at any time. Just be careful when you encounter crows. They sure do love shiny objects, and your rings are ever so tantalizing to them.
As you fight, you will gain experience and level up. When you level up, you acquire some skill points which can be invested into several stats as you see fit. Being able to customize your stats like this is one feature which gives the game much of its replayability. Do you want to focus on being a fire mage with proficiency into swords? Do you want to spread your skills among every stat to be well balanced? Do you want to save your stats and invest them as you need them to use certain equipment? The choice is yours. Just be aware that you cannot make any stat higher than your current level, so there are limits to bear in mind.
While exploring the castle, you will find skull shaped locks which block off new areas. Because Daniel gains no new abilities which could be used to unlock areas, you will have to obtain keys to gain access to them. This simplification of the backtracking system separates Unepic from other titles within the Metroidvania genre. You won’t need to spend hours going back to previous areas scouring every corner with all of your new abilities to search for incremental power ups or new areas to explore. In Unepic, you simply need to obtain a new key then go back to unlock the door. There are hidden walls which you can attack to unveil, but this can be accomplished by attacking them any item.
Backtracking is made incredibly simple in this title thanks to its convenient gate system. You will periodically come across a gate in your travels upon opening will lead you to a central hub containing 20 such gates. These will lead you to other point in the castle, and it is an excellent fast-travel system which I greatly appreciated. You will easily be able to judge where the gates will take you based on their relative position to the map, so you don’t need to be concerned with this room getting confusing as more gates open along the way. There is only one save point in the game, but Daniel finds an item which can immediately transport him back to the save point, and one of these gates is situated quite close to it. Just warp to save when you are in a tight spot then use a gate to get back to where you were!
Another reason to backtrack comes in the form of special challenges. These are very difficult and will likely require many attempts to complete. To unlock one of these challenges, you must first find its corresponding purple seal hidden in the castle. After that, the game will tell you where to go in order to attempt it. After completing the challenge, you will receive ‘Unepic Points’. These points can be used at a special shop to buy powerful items which can only be purchased with said points.
There is not much variety in stage design between the areas. Most of the halls you will explore are set just high enough for you to jump in, and you will climb a great number of ladders. There are some areas with platforms to maneuver around as well as some areas with ropes you can slide down, but other than that, it can get somewhat repetitive. Most traps are tripped by stepping on a pressure plate followed by spikes emerging from the floor or ceiling, or a fire ball shooting at you from the distance. There are not many kinds of traps other than that, though. It would have been interesting if they had implemented more types such as crushers from Castlevania or cannons. It can get somewhat repetitive in the early game, but the large number of enemies you will come across helps to distract you from this. There is some more variety to be found once you are past the midway point of this title.
There are four difficulty settings in Unepic. These are well balanced and go beyond simply making enemies do more or less damage. In easy and medium, the game will automatically save for you. In easy, you take a quarter less damage from enemies and your health slowly regenerates over time. In hard mode, the autosave function is taken away and monsters detect you more easily. However, you gain an extra stat point when you level up. In hard++ mode, you have no invincibility frames after being attacked, but you gain two extra stat points upon level up. I have been playing the game in hard mode, and that feels like the mode the devs designed the game to be played in. One thing I noticed which I liked was that they do not insult players who wish to play in easy mode. This shows a level of consideration on their part which not many other devs seem to these days.
There are few games for just $10 on the eShop which don’t come close to the scale and scope of Unepic. The castle is absolutely massive. While the stage layout can get slightly repetitive, the huge variety of enemies, weapons and spells along with the great music distracts players from that fact. This game is an absolute blast to play through and will take at least 20 hours to complete. A game of this quality is worth playing again simply because of how deep and fun it is. I foresee myself coming back to it and playing it over again for years to come just as I did with the classic Castlevania titles. There is no doubt in my mind that $10 is the best possible value for a game like this, and they could have easily gotten away with selling it for at least twice what they are asking.