Undercroft is one giant piece of vintage 1989 RPG cheese. Man, this baby has it all: stepped movement in a “3D” environment, flat sprites with a few frames of animation each, endless short corridors, gloriously over-the-top text, turn-based combat, party-based questing, skeletons, rats, spiders (what ever would we do without the spiders?), and all the rest. Playing this game is like being back on my 80286, banging away at Eye of the Beholder or Might & Magic.
And I loved every minute of it. Sure, it reminds you just how better RPGs have gotten in 20 years, but it’s still a great experience. This is old skool, baby, and it’s palm sized! That just gives me a certain kind of geek-thrill available only to people with a few decades of gaming behind them.
You begin by creating 4 characters, or choosing a random party. Stats are simple: strength, dexterity, and constitution. You can use some extra points to boost your stats, or, depending upon your class, buy some additional powers. Characters can be a warrior, mage, priest, summoner, or assassin, and if I have to explain what those classes are, then this game probably isn’t for you.
Soon after you begin, you find yourself in a basement killing rats, striking with each of your four characters in turn. Once you’re engaged in combat, you can swap items in inventory, use potions, change weapons and spells, and do everything but move.
The adventure follows the silly and predictable path of any late-1980s RPG. You pick up random tasks like delivering letters, catching chickens, or cleaning out monster-infested tunnels. These in turn help pump the levels as you get ready to take on gradually more serious creatures.
Undercroft is a free game, and its creators claim it has 20 hours of gameplay. Although I only have a few hours under my belt, I don’t doubt there’s probably 17 more hours lurking in there somewhere.
I’d say that, as an example of its kind, it’s well-nigh perfect. The only thing that bothered me were the healing mechanisms: either allow us to rest anywhere, or provide more health potion drops.There are some glitches, to be sure. A drop graphic might show one item, which the pickup menu shows another. Music keeps turning itself back on. Other rough spots simply add to the retro charm.
I have a feeling that not everyone will probably react to this game that same way I do. I’m viewing it through a gauzy scrim of nostalgia. My son didn’t like it at all. When I tried to explain that “This old school!” He said, “Yeah, real old school.” That hurts, son. That hurts…
This is a style of party-based first-person role-playing we just don’t see any more, and until Undercroft I hadn’t realized just how much I missed it. Your mileage may vary, but considering that the sucker is free, it’s not like you have much to lose by giving it a try.