When it comes to the mouse-driven action RPG genre, the conversation starts and ends with Diablo. Bursting on to the scene in 1996, the game basically reinvented the mouse click as the be-all-end-all of input commands.
Fast forward 13 years, and Pixel Mine brings Underworlds to the iPhone. Basically an iDevice clone of the Blizzard classic, the title borrows all of the familiar concepts and gameplay philosophies and tries to party like it’s 1996. But what worked back then doesn’t necessarily translate to this platform, and what’s left is a clumsy dungeon crawler that stumbles more than it slays.
The game’s premise is hardly groundbreaking — a stoic warrior battles monsters through a progression of increasingly difficult dungeons. In this case, the warrior starts out as a bodyguard for a caravan, with the story and quests gradually dished out through conversations with townsfolk. Nothing you haven’t seen before.
Straight out of the Diablo handbook, navigating through the game is handled by single taps on the screen to designate location. There’s an option to use a directional pad, which is nice when the map is clear, but a bit impractical during battle situations. Tap monsters to attack, tap items to pick them up, and so forth.
But that control philosophy is also Underworlds’ greatest fault. The small screen size of the iDevice does no favors for the eyeballs or chubby fingers. Admittedly, there are some nice tools to cope with the small size of items, namely a “Loot” button that automatically inventories anything nearby, but it’s not enough. Battles against large numbers of enemies can be a lesson in patience, dexterity, and, ultimately, futility.
That’s not to say Underworlds doesn’t do a number of things well. The difficulty level is adjustable, with Normal being right at the sweet spot. The depth and detail of the RPG elements are excellent, with an array of weapons and armor at the warrior’s disposal. The shopkeeper always has a variety of interesting items. But again, the smallish buttons in the loadout can be annoying with larger fingers. Luckily, there’s nothing trying to kill you in the inventory screen. Also, the only soundtrack comes from the iPod — AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” or Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” are always good for kicking undead butt.
Underworlds is almost a good game. Almost. If there were a stylus for iDevices, this game would be a winner. But as of now, it just seems like it wasn’t designed with adult-sized fingers in mind.