Undercroft in Review – An old-school RPG for the iGeneration

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It warms my heart to see more and more really strong RPG games finally make their way onto the iDevice. Today I’m going to write about a recent release, which I had the immense pleasure of reviewing: Undercroft, the latest and one the greatest additions to the genre!

Undercroft is an old-school party-based first-person RPG. After getting really drunk in the bar with some “pals” you make a bet that you will explore the nearby graveyard and bring back any gold you find in the royal tomb. Stupid, eh? But you were drunk, so what do you expect?

The game begins outside the said bar and you immediately run into your first quest. Which is to find 5 lost chickens. This should give some idea of the feel of the game. Most of all, it reminded me of the Lands of Lore series of games on the PC, as well as a lot of other party-based RPGs. The developers have done a great job of adapting the game-play to the platform, considering all of the aspects of the iPhone gaming community.

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So, a bit of info on the gameplay itself. You explore, complete quests, kill enemies, collect items, trade, upgrade item, and more. The general story is linear, but within the area you can complete multiple sub-quests in almost any order. The game is party-based, meaning you create your team at the beginning. The customization includes portrait, name and class. The game features 5 classes – Warrior, Mage, Assassin, Priest and Summoner with distinct skill sets for each. Considering you only have 4 spots in your party, here’s at least one reason to replay more than once.

Each class strictly adhere to their usual guidelines and characteristics, well with a few differences. I would like to say a bit about the Summoner class – it is sort of a mix between a Druid and a Necromancer. It can summon allies, has a couple of attack spells, and can morph into a werewolf, becoming a powerful melee fighter as well. At the same time, because of such a variety, it’s rather difficult to decide how to develop the character, so I would not recommend this hero for a newbie.

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The heroes themselves have 3 attributes (which was kind of a downer for hard-core RPG fans like myself) – Strength, Dexterity and Stamina, as well as Health and Stamina; stamina is used instead of mana in Undercroft. Each class also has a selection of 18 distinct skills, which come in active or passive flavours.

Another fetish for any RPG fan is the collection of equipment. And here Undercroft has more than enough to keep anyone satisfied. Each character may be equipped with body armour, a belt, gloves, a helm, boots, a weapon, a shield, and up to four amulets or rings. Equipment comes in both class-specific and general varieties and has 3 tiers: common, magic and unique. These are signified by label colour (white, yellow and purple). And there a lots of potions and other edibles, that give you that much needed boost in the heat of battle.

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The game-play will pull you in like quicksand. While the game may seems a little simple to hard-core RPGers, it’s simply impossible to put it down. You find yourself wanting to play just a little bit longer, to finish that quest, or to gain one more level. The balance is rather well thought-out, but I found the spells to be a bit on the weak side, unless you pump all of the skill points into that one spell. Another disappointment was that I had all of the skills unlocked by roughly one third of my way through, which is really far too early IMHO. I would love either to see more skills, or having some of them buffed up and/or unlocked near the end of the game.

Another thing I just loved about the game is that it rewards exploration. You can find a lot of hidden equipment, additional sub-quests, even scrolls that give you extra skill points and experience. There are lots of invisible walls, hidden switches, and even puzzles, and here and there, easter eggs are scattered.

The graphics are a bit retro; anyone who played RPGs in the mid-90s will immediately find themselves at home. At the same time, they look excellent on the platform and next to to Dungeon Hunter among all the RPGs I have experienced. On my 3G, performance is excellent, and as a plus, the taskbar is always visible. The controls are also positioned so that you can easily play with just two thumbs. Overall, I had no problems with the interface (unlike one of my recent reviews) and found very intuitive and easy to use.

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Undercroft really is a gem. The game is the model of how an RPG should look and feel on the platform. Though I may be a bit selfish and wish there were more more skills and attributes, I can’t help but see that this is an ideal game for both hungry, die-hard RPG fans and role-playing newcomers alike. And with the huge, almost desktop amount of game-play (15+ hours), this is a definite must have for any RPG fan. And the Easter Egg of Jets’N'Guns, my favourite side-scrolling arcade for the PC right at the beginning of the game has also brought a warm and fuzzy feeling to my heart.

With this I declare Undercroft officially touched!

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App Summary
Title:UndercroftDeveloper:Rake in Grass
Price:$4.99App Size:16.0 MB
  • Excellent and balanced gameplay will of the hallmarks of a true old-school RPG
  • Lots of hidden stuff
  • Wonderfully adapted for the platform and suitable for both RPG experts and newbies
  • Very nice graphics
  • Over 15 hours of gameplay
  • Skills could be expanded and a bit rebalanced
  • Story is a bit weak

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