Dungeon-crawlers really do feel at home on the Nintendo Switch. You can boot up, explore a bit, grab some loot, fight some enemies, and then power down to go back to your endlessly grim office job or however else you spend a Wednesday. Unexplored originally released on Steam back at the start of 2017, but developer Ludomotion have kindly saw fit to bring some dungeon-crawling roguelite goodness to Nintendo’s little machine in the form of Unexplored: Unlocked Edition, which brings three DLC packs to the party. So, how does it hold up?
Rather well, as it turns out. You play some hairy one-eyed lad who wanders into the alluringly named Dungeon of Doom in search of magical and mythical mcguffin called the Amulet of Yendor. You get in, turn the place upside down, slay anything that looks at you funny, grab the Amulet, and get out. It isn’t exactly the most complex set up in the world but it does the job in explaining why we’re here and what we’re doing.
With your player character, whose name and appearance can either be randomised or specifically chosen by the player, you traverse through the depths of the Dungeon from a top-down perspective. As you explore and map each area, you’ll encounter formidable enemies, challenging puzzles, and environmental hazards such as poison gas. Oh, and plenty of weapons, magic, and gear.
There is an absolutely crazy amount of stuff to find in Unexplored, and the game’s economy revolves around one thing: loot. Enemies drop loot, chests have loot, boxes have loot, big jars have loot, and sometimes you’ll even just find loot lying on the ground because it couldn’t be bothered hiding. Loot ranges in type from gold to weapons, and from mysterious potions to unidentified spells. Throw in a number of different scrolls and ancient texts to flesh out the world and you’ll be increasingly glad that your character brought an irresponsibly large backpack to the Dungeon of Doom.
The mystery of some of the items is a point worth highlighting, actually, as it adds an extra dimension to the exploration. As you explore the Dungeon, you’ll encounter magic scrolls and elixirs with unknown effects. The game explains that you are more than welcome to find out the effect by using the item, but there is no guarantee that the effect will be, well, good. This creates an intriguing dilemma as the player is forced to decide whether or not to gamble on popping a scroll to try and gain the upper hand against a boss when there is also the chance that the spell might explode your head. Tread lightly, in other words.
The sheer number and variety of things to discover adds a distinct element of replayability to the game, which is reinforced by the random nature of the levels. Each level of the Dungeon is procedurally generated, ensuring that there is enough variation that no two runs are the same. If there’s a problem with this, and I’m afraid that there is a bit of a problem, it’s that the game doesn’t handle this random generation particularly well in the performance department. For starters, each level is huge, which puts a strain on the loading times from the get go, but the game will continue to load the Dungeon as you explore each level, sometimes freezing for multiple seconds while it’s at it.
As well as interrupting the action to perform what should be a background task, these pauses last just long enough to feel like the game is going to die entirely. Unexplored just doesn’t run as smoothly as it should, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be graphically demanding or processor heavy enough to justify these issues.
The problem with Unexplored is that it’s a little difficult to recommend. Aside from a few performance issues, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, and it’s certainly worth your time as an introduction to the roguelite dungeon-crawler genre. That being said, if you aren’t a genre newcomer, then you may have already seen everything that Unexplored has to offer. Games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac execute arguably everything more competently, and are definitely hard to look past when it comes to handing out recommendations.
Unexplored is incredibly tightly designed. The puzzles are well crafted and fit nicely into the flow of the game without ever derailing the pacing, and the combat does a lot to make the game feel alive and populated, however temporarily. The exploration, as the title might suggest, is what makes the game worth some time. The loading issues are a bit of a blow, as is the niggling feeling that we’ve seen all this before, maybe even better in some cases, but Unexplored is still able to stand tall and dig deep.
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As solid as Unexplored is in its core concept, the performance issues do represent a bit of an issue. Still, it’s certainly very much worth your time if you like a good bit of exploration, and especially so if you haven’t played a lot of roguelites.
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