on Jul 13, 2009
You get skill points as you go, and you can invest those points to provide very modest improvements to your performance in combat. The inventory system is reduced to three slots for holding temporary powerups. During the process of clicking on things to make them die, you’ll sometimes find these little powerups that give a boost to damage, or healing, or speed, etc. Most of the decisions you’ll be making are when to put these to use. As you go, you’ll rescue other characters. You can play any unlocked level at any time, with any of the characters you’ve found. Each character has a single special ability, which is unleashed with the right mouse button. You rack up a score as you go, based on how well you do and how much treasure you hoover up. All told, you can play the entire game using nothing more than the mouse and three keyboard buttons. Finally, there are a series of achievements you can unlock for things like beating a level without dying, or beating a level without using a powerup.
The greatest weakness of the game is that expectations work against it. I looked at the game and expected “Diablo” style play, and was then frustrated by the lack of character development, inventory, or complex spells. But that’s not what this game is trying to be. It just looks like one of those. It’s a short lunchtime diversion. A quick round of scoring points and bashing stuff up for fun. It’s closer to Swarm than to Fantasy-Themed Isometric Hack-n-Slash III. In keeping with this “quick round” mentality, the game starts almost instantly and is basically free of any sort of loading-screen nonsense.
When I review a game I usually have a laundry list of things I would have changed or done differently. I really enjoy this part of the review for indie games, because in most cases I know there’s a good chance the designer will read the review and will likely get some sort of benefit from it, even if they disagree with my conclusions. But I don’t know that I can do that here. Nearly every suggestion I could make would drag the game away from its intent. There are layers of strategy and depth and complexity that could be added, but none of them would fit within the scope offered by Kivi’s Underworld. Most of them would center around making the game more complicated, because that is what scratches my particular itch. (Besides, Steven Peeler did solicit suggestions for his next game, and I had my say there.)
Despite the game falling pretty far out of my personal Venn Diagram of features, I still manage to find the game to be a rewarding diversion. As a nice bonus, the multiplayer expansion was recently released. I’m excited to see a nice, integrated multiplayer solution in the hands of an indie developer.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.