Updated: Underworlds Review

Pixel Mine has released a version 1.1 update to their hack and slash RPG, Underworlds, adding control improvements, a global leaderboard and original score, along with a few other features.

[Read on after the jump.]

The most notable feature in relation to our previous review has to be the improvements to the D-Pad, which handles a little more on-par with other games in its class. The D-Pad seemed impractical in our previous playthrough, as it seemed to lack the precision and accuracy that’s required to navigate the narrow and cluttered catacombs of the dungeon. That’s been remedied, and we actually found it preferable to the touch-screen movements.

The potion mechanic also has been modified, requiring a double tap to use when health is above 50 percent.

But many of the shortcomings that hindered our first playthrough — namely the clumsy combat due to the smallish size of the enemies in relation to the screen size — are still there. Trying to target smaller enemies still results in sometimes moving the character or not responding at all.

Many of the other features are superficial, for sure, but show a dedication from the developer to incorporate user feedback into improving the title. The addition of a global leaderboard and new character portraits was nice, but hardly necessary. The new soundtrack definitely captures the mood of the game. Still, we’d prefer our own soundtrack, but the in-game music works just fine.

We appreciate the efforts from Pixel Mine to actively solicit user feedback to improve the gameplay efforts. Underworlds still has its issues — it’s almost there — but incremental updates like this should have it living up to its potential in no time.

We’re going to let it sneak up to a 3, but just barely.

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.

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