Have you ever played a dungeon crawler and wanted to see what it might be like from a side-scrolling perspective? If so, look no further than UnEpic. It may not be a masterpiece, but with a combination of wit and solid gameplay, it’s still a really good time.
Here’s the plot: the protagonist, officially named David (the game never calls him by name; I believe you name the character at the start of a game, but since the game never confirms this, I can’t be absolutely sure), is mysteriously transported to a medieval castle during a bathroom break. He now must find his way back home. Yes, that’s the plot. What did you expect from a game called UnEpic?
Anyway, early on, the protagonist is possessed by a spirit in the castle, but something unexpected happens. Rather than the spirit taking control of the protagonist’s body, the spirit finds himself trapped in the protagonist’s body. He’s not too worried, though. As soon as the protagonist dies, the spirit will be free. This leads to a humorous relationship between the two, since the spirit actively wants the protagonist to die, and the protagonist knows it.
This brings us to the real charm of the game: the humor. The game constantly made me giggle with its character interactions and out-of-left-field pop culture references. There are some groan-worthy jokes here and there, but overall, it’s a pretty funny package. But it’s not all fun and games—there’s a fairly serious mystery at work in the background. But I only cared about it because I was attached to the characters, and I was attached to the characters because I could laugh with them. It’s a really good balance between funny and serious that drew me deeper into the world, a balance more games could learn from.
This is an RPG through and through. You have stats that correspond with each weapon or magic type in the game. You can level up each ability, with the limit being your character level. It’s a brilliant system that allows players to find their preferred play style before choosing an upgrade path.
While I love the system they’ve implemented, the execution leaves a little to be desired. One, magic is given to you piecemeal throughout the game rather than upfront like all the weapons. You get magic by completing quests for Pure Spirits, who are trapped in boxes like the one above. Now, this makes sense, since the protagonist is a human from Earth and has no knowledge of magic. The problem with this approach is that if you spend all your upgrade points before getting magic you really want (especially healing and alteration, since you get those very late in the game), you’ll be out of luck.
Also, the bosses are both well- and poorly designed. They are really clever and will do things you haven’t seen before—I’m sure you’ve never faced a boss that makes you dump out your potions or cast a spell that will kill you, for example. Don’t be alarmed; avoiding these fates is straightforward. These bosses simply require some strategy to defeat.
The problem is they often require a specific skill set to beat effectively. Some bosses will require axes, some bows, some magic. Sure, you can technically use a level-1 bow with any character build, but if you are fighting one of the later bosses with a level-1 bow, you will be there for a long time. This completely ruins the skill system, as rather than allowing players to enjoy the play style that works for them, it forces them to adjust their style to beat the bosses. To be fair, though, this is only a problem with the later bosses, since only they require a certain competency in the necessary skills.
Now, a look at the map might inspire comparisons to another beloved genre: the Metroidvania. In fact, that’s what the developers call it. However, I have a problem with that assessment. A good Metroidvania opens up as you gain new abilities to go to new places. In this one, only one new area opens up at a time, since the key you get from a boss will only open one area at a time. As I said, I think it’s more of a dungeon crawler from a side-scrolling perspective. Not that I have a problem with that—it works quite well. I just don’t think it’s a Metroidvania.
I played the game on the Wii U, and that is the best version of the game, hands down. This is true for two simple reasons, both of them related to the GamePad.
One, when you play on a TV, this menu with all kinds of hotkeys appears on the touchscreen so you can easily switch weapons, cast magic, use teleportation items, etc. Since the game doesn’t pause when you load a menu, this is extremely useful.
Two, when you play on the GamePad, there’s a zoom option, making it easier to see traps and enemies. You can also bring up the hotkeys by simply pressing the screen. I used the GamePad most of the time, and it worked quite well.
I did download the Windows demo to try it out, and it ran fine on my laptop. Still, if you have a Wii U, the Wii U version is definitely the one to get. While the keyboard does give a good selection of hotkeys, using a keyboard (or at least mine, with the arrow keys scrunched up close to the shift key) for a 2D platformer just doesn’t work all that well, and the default key bindings are placed where their first corresponding letters are. (For example, map is “M”). Plus, if you use a controller, you lose the (relatively) easy access to the hot keys.
Both versions have relatively simple art styles. And there’s nothing wrong with that—the simple art style suits the game (and ensures it will run fine on even modest hardware). You may find odd animations with the protagonist, however. I believe he is made up of pieces—each type of armor and weapon is physically represented in the game, so I think they are all animated on the fly based on the equipment you have. This is a clever way to allow the player to actually see the new armor they’ve equipped, but sometimes you’ll notice some inconsistencies in the animation. For instance, I used the lock-on function to aim at an enemy above my head. When my character drew the bow back, I noticed his head was no longer attached to his neck. (I wish I had captured that to show you.) But since the art style is cartoony, it may elicit a giggle, but it won’t break the experience.
The music is actually pretty good. After traveling through an area for awhile, I’d stop noticing it, but as soon as I went to a new area, I’d realize just how good the music was. If there’s one weak part of the music, it’s the battle theme. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not bad, but it is forgettable. The same battle music plays through the whole game, and it breaks up the much better theme music of the area. I think it would have been better not to have the battle music at all. This is really just a minor complaint, however. It doesn’t negatively impact the game.
There is one key difference between the Windows and Wii U versions: the Windows version includes a mode for ages 16 and up, which by its description includes sexuality and swear words not suitable for 12-year-olds. The Wii U version is rated T, which means it has only the content from the ages-12-and-up mode. I don’t know what was taken away from the “censored” version, but the game is so good as is, I’m not going to bother with the “adult” version. If you play it and think it’s amazing, let me know in the comments. Plus, the Wii U version is fully voiced (and voiced well), but the Windows version doesn’t seem to be (although that could just be the demo).
All in all, I’d say UnEpic is pretty good. It’s not groundbreaking, and it won’t change your life, but it’s a lot of fun and knows how to tell a good joke. It’s only $10 (USD), and I got 30 hours of gameplay out of it. Good price-to-entertainment ratio, wouldn’t you say? Also, “the ending of UnEpic is really cool.” That joke was awesome, I tell you! Come back when you finish the game and bask in my brilliance!
Review copy supplied by publisher.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.