Going Under is a dungeon crawler roguelike set in the city of Seattle Neo-Cascadia. You play as Jackie, the newest intern at Fizzle, a startup that makes meal replacement soda. And like many interns around the country, your role ends up being a bait-and-switch: instead of marketing, your supervisor needs to kill the goblins in the basement. As far as intern tasks go, it could be worse?
Story & Atmosphere
The dungeons in this game take the form of failed startups lurking beneath your open-space office. Start-up budgets are thin when it comes to anything other than media events and snack bars, so Jackie needs to make do with whatever weapons she can scrounge out of these failed companies. Armed with decorative plants and bricked phones, she’ll need to fight through the remains of an odd-jobs service, an emoji-based dating app, and a cryptocurrency mine to appease her supervisor and maybe even earn a chance at a paid position.
The game is chock full of style, with a beautiful pastel theme that echoes the bright, featureless humans used in the art of every tech company this year. The game is super fun to look at, which makes all of the well-designed enemies, weapons, and environments even more enjoyable to see and use. The design pairs nicely with the sharp, witty writing that incessantly riffs on all of the relatable (miserable) aspects of startup life, internships, and goblin infestations. Having worked at a startup, I can tell you they hit the nail on the head in a way that will have you laughing while shaking off the flashbacks to unsolicited “tech bro” advice.
The game is a run-based roguelike dungeon crawler. If these made-up words are unfamiliar to you, that means that there are specific types of enemies and weapons in each dungeon, and the same final boss fights, but the order and types of rooms is randomly generated each time you go through them. It also means you will die a lot. The combat is fun and pretty well-tuned, though it can feel a bit floaty or imprecise at times. I honestly think this game suffered a lot from comparison to Hades, which came out around the same time. I found that after taking a little time off of playing Hades, I was able to get into the groove of Going Under’s combat and started having a lot more fun with it. In particular, the variety of weapons and the visual gags added so much joy to every run, so even when I wasn’t doing well I was still enjoying myself. The weapons all have a fairly small durability, forcing you to both scavenge rooms for more items and try a wide variety of items in the process. This frantic, goofy style of combat lends itself so well to the story, as I would also resort to throwing potted plants at goblins if that’s what was near me. Overall the combat is well-designed and varied enough that it’ll still be fun when you’re dozens of runs into the game.
Every run starts with you picking one of the three dungeons, choosing a mentor and a skill, and hopping down the tube. Your mentor will give you different bonuses in your run, from getting more money to starting with some buddies. You level up your mentors by doing sidequests for them during your various runs. These quests are a great way to focus on something other than trying to beat the bosses if you’re feeling a stuck, and some of the later perks really help power you up. A few of the quests are a little obtuse in terms of what you actually need to do, but the majority of them are uncomplicated and add some interesting variation to what happens in the dungeons.
The skills are originally found in the dungeons (a few per floor) as combat bonuses, ranging from extra crit damage to setting targeted enemies on fire. After using them in a few runs, they’ll be added the list of skills you can equip before your next attempt. They’ve done a great job of making all of these fun to play around with and well-balanced for combat, avoiding the common roguelike issue where you’ll need certain bonuses to appear to make a run worthwhile. This means that each run is different, but you’ll be able to mess around with different builds without sacrificing your chances of winning.
If you’re fully stocked up on powers and still feeling a little overwhelmed, the game also has a robust system to lower the difficulty. Rather than just static easy, medium, or hard modes, the game has a standard difficulty that it was designed to be played at, and a customizable assist menu. These options are all different boosts to help you through, ranging from higher item durability to extra hearts. I think the customization offered here is perfect for people who aren’t interested in investing the time to get good at this type of game, without stripping away the actual gameplay. The level of specificity as to what help you need is an amazing way to allow more people to experience the great story, dialogue and visuals Going Under has to offer.
Going Under is a pretty quick game, clocking in somewhere around 15 hours if you complete the mentor quest lines. The game is hard enough that it’ll take most people a few tries to get through each dungeon, but not so hard that’ll you’ll be spending days banging your head against the wall. The number of runs also means you’ll have time to see all the great jokes, hang out with the characters, and appreciate all of the clever enemies. And if you love it, the new mode gives you a reason to spend even more time in Neo-Cascadia. I think for most people, with the assist mode on or not, the game is a great length to really sink your teeth into it without letting it start to drag.
One reason I love indie developers is that you can really feel the love they have for their games, and Aggro Crab is definitely a shining example of that. Not only do they have a great, active community on Discord, but they’re continuing to support the game post-launch. Just last week they put out the “Working From Home” update, which includes new skills, an entirely new challenge mode, outfits, and a bestiary. The new mode adds some fun replayability to the game for those who’ve finished the game, and the bestiary does a great job of filling out the lore behind the employees of the failed startups whose asses you’ve been beating. These new features add to an already wonderful game, and the fact that they’re released as a free update instead of bundled into a DLC shows that the developers are invested in continuing to improve the game based off of user feedback.
I really enjoyed my time with this game! It had me grinning basically from the splash screen, and it felt like they were able to cram humor into every part of the game without it feeling overdone or forced. The gameplay is fun and engaging, and just tough enough to feel rewarding when you’re able to clear a dungeon. With the developers already adding a significant content update, the $20 price point feels like a great deal for something so enjoyable.
Going Under is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.