A rough Switch port which is a bit of an eyesore.
Charles Dance the third shimmies around a corner, shield thrusted in front of his face and sword clinched by a taut arm, ready to be slung at whatever creature emerges from the black fog. Tap, tap. Footsteps echo from the unseen, the darkness behind the wall. A creature wanders closer. Dance tries to creep – though sort of slides – around the bend, inch by inch, completely aware a fight is imminent, his death only one strike away. TAP, TAP. The auditory clue is no longer needed; Dance’s singular eye spots the mace-wielding goblin which makes a beeline for him, eager for his blood. Dance waits for his opponent to get near, hoping he can get the first strike.
‘Dungeon data being created.’ The game freezes as the Switch renders the rest of the level. Anticlimactic or what?
Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is a constant battle to like. Every time it seems to be building up to a crescendo of lovely gamey-ness (a technical term meaning a ‘Good Game’) it falters, leaving a sour taste in the mouth. This is largely a byproduct of its harsh difficulty and, unfortunately, the Switch port being a bit naff.
For those unfamiliar with Ludomotion’s 2017 procedurally generated, dungeon-crawling roguelite, Unexplored is, well, that. You control a cute cyclops-like creature, choose their name, what they look like (note: it’s always pretty damn adorable) and what class they’ll be, before descending into levels of nastiness.
It truly is cruel. The dungeons are worse than that kid from school your Mum’s friend would always refer to as ‘the nasty one’ – you’re never sure what they’ve done, just ‘stay away’ from them. There are plenty of things you’ll gladly try to avoid, though, in Ludomotion’s debut on the Switch. From numerous traps and rooms filled with gas to a variety of creatures (some poison, bite or tend to be a bit stabby), and potions and scrolls which could explode your face right off just as likely as they’d help. Pretty much everything in each dungeon wants you dead.
They’re supposed to kill you, though. Unexplored stays on the same permadeath tracks of its roguelite kin, relishing in the familiar ‘just one more run’ type of game which has flourished in the past decade, such as Binding Of Isaac or Rogue Legacy. Often armed with one or two weapons, each with a short cooldown timer after every hit, it does a great job of making you feel vulnerable. You’re generally going to be outnumbered or against something a lot stronger than you, so a mixture of kiting and perfecting hits is important if you want to make it beyond the dungeon’s first level.
However, this is where the game starts to falter. Tackling tough opponents is a core part of Unexplored and it’s a shame slashing at the armoured foe is a bit loose. From striking to sprinting, there’s something a bit inaccurate about how your character controls. From the way they slide slightly when stopping or take a few frames to react, it’s all minor problems which end up making it feel a bit sluggish.
This is certainly not helped by the game consistently freezing for a few seconds on almost every floor so it can render the rest of the level. Even with the ‘dungeon being created’ message, it hardly justifies the frustration. Nor does it help that each run will have you exposed to a load time which is a little too long, the possibility of it crashing on you or occasional frame rate drops. Here’s hoping a patch can swiftly fix these up.
Alongside the technical issues, there’s a glaring problem you’ll encounter trying to swap out equipment: the menus are bit rubbish. While serviceable on the PC, swapping between menus and equipment feels unnatural and clunky here. Using the Switch controls to navigate through its grid system is unintuitive and feels out of sorts, particularly when in handheld mode.
Just as easily as Unexplored frustrates, though, it delights. With a top-down, isometric view and minimalist art design, it does an amazing job of creating detail and atmosphere with very little, helped largely by its well-crafted audio. It sounds bloody great. From the monsters’ guttural snarls to the equal parts horrific and cheerful laugh of glee your character makes when you’ve skewered said opponent, the audio design in this game is wonderful. You can instantly identify if there’s a mechanised sentry waiting ahead or if it’s a mischief of rats on the other side of the door.
Unexplored truly is challenging to play and to like. For everything it does well, there’s something which gets in the way of it being truly great. However, for those who liked last year’s PC version, the Switch port is the complete bundle featuring the Mithril Run, Ripley Run and The Dark Ritual expansion – if you can get over the technical issues, that it.