Underworlds review: A fun, if short, iPhone RPG

I enjoy the odd Mac/PC role-playing game such as Baldur’s Gate and Diablo, so I thought I’d see what RPGs are available for the iPhone. There are a few out there, including Vay (which I hope to review soon), but the one that caught my eye was the recently-launched Underworlds from Pixel Mine. So I took it for a spin.

Underworlds is in many ways a “Diablo lite” for the iPhone. It’s an isometric 3D hack-and-slash affair, with a single character that you move around various dungeons, killing monsters and picking up goodies.

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The graphics look great, even on the small screen, and the sound effects and music are suitably atmospheric. There’s a good range of scenery, items and monsters (although the monsters are very much of the “evil undead” variety) and the game is generally fun to play.

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The levelling system is nicely done – with each level-up you can choose which stats to increase, and also choose to bump up various “feats” which you can then use during battle, such as slash, shield bash, and berserk (my personal favourite).

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Weapons and armour have an almost bewildering range of stats, including weapon class, damage and speed; armour class; blunt, cut and pierce; and so on. This means that each item you pick up is pretty much unique in its abilities.

I have a few niggles with Underworlds:

  • The game is short. You can complete the whole game in a couple of hours without breaking into a sweat. (I recommend choosing at least the “Hard” level to give yourself a bit of a challenge.)
  • The game is also linear. There’s only one way to progress through the world – you’re pretty much forced from one dungeon to the next. You can’t go off and explore new dungeons, villages, and so on at will.
  • There’s only one character class. You can’t choose between elves, dwarves and so on as in a traditional RPG. This is partially alleviated by the levelling system which lets you focus on particular stats (such as strength or dexterity). As a side note, there isn’t much in the way of magic in the game (apart from potions).
  • The levelling system is too restrictive. Basically you can only get your character to level 10, which happens fairly early on in the game. Then there’s no sense of character progression for the rest of the game.
  • The movement controls are a bit fiddly. You can use either the on-screen directional pad (which is hard if you have big thumbs like me), or tap on the screen where you want to move to (which works great except when tapping near the bottom of the screen, when you inevitably end up tapping one of the “feats” buttons instead).

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Despite these limitations – many of which I’m sure Pixel Mine will address in later versions – Underworlds is fun to play, reasonable value for money ($5 at the time of writing) and shows a lot of promise. Great to see some well-made RPGs appearing for the iPhone! (Macworld also has a nice thorough Underworlds review.)

Rating: 3.5/5

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One Response to “Underworlds review: A fun, if short, iPhone RPG”

  1. Underworlds revisited -- Reality Distortion: Macs, Mac OS X, and Apple stuff Says:

    […] in June I reviewed Underworlds, a role-playing adventure game for the iPhone. In the review I mentioned a few niggles with the […]