Kivi’s Underworld:
Final Thoughts

By Shamus Posted Monday Jul 13, 2009

Filed under: Game Reviews 14 comments

Link (YouTube)
You will no doubt be astounded to learn that Kivi’s Underworld is the story of Kivi. His people – the Lumen – are threatened by the secretive Dark Elves. His people don’t see the danger, and it’s up to Kivi to do hero-type hacking and slashing to save them. The story is revealed through uncharacteristically good voice acting that sets the stage for each level. Then begins the pointing and the clicking.

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.

As a fan of “spreadsheet” RPG’s, I do find myself looking at Kivi and wishing there was more to do. Based on comments I’ve seen in the past, I know this game is precisely what some people are looking for. I’m worried they’ll skip it because it looks like games they don’t enjoy. If you hate the flow-breaking Diablo flea market, iterative character development that has you throw out early characters, and managing an array of complex hotkeys, then Kivi is crafted with your tastes in mind.

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.


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14 thoughts on “Kivi’s Underworld:
Final Thoughts

  1. albval says:

    Wow, a game where “the fate of the interior of the gastrointestinal tract is in my hands” sounds rather interesting.

    First post?

  2. Yar Kramer says:

    Hmm … I’m gonna have to try out the demo. This sounds like it’d be right up my alley. (And I’m not saying that just to be contrary. ;))

    I wonder if there would be less concern about the “expectations” if it had a more “simple”/stylized graphical style. I’m admittedly thinking “Wind Waker”-style, but there’s room for lots of ideas.

  3. Kdansky says:

    I played the demo and found it utterly boring due to nothing interesting going on. It feels like a Flash game with more polish, but not free.

  4. Rutskarn says:

    Actually, I kinda am mildly surprised to find out that Kivi is the protagonist of Kivi’s Underworld. Usually, with fantasy names, and proper nouns in the title are either generically terrifying warlords or generically terrifying lands you must brave

    Left image there is broken, prolly because it says, “inage”.

  5. It’s really weird hearing the Baldur’s Gate music in the trailer, I must say.


    EDIT: Well, going through my Baldur’s Gate soundtrack, it’s not from there. I *know* I’m familiar with that song, though. What’s it from?

  6. Krellen says:

    So it’s more like Gauntlet++, then?

  7. radio_babylon says:

    i used to be one of those people who would turn their nose up at these kind of uber-simplified games. then i actually played a few, and discovered much to my surprise that i actually LIKE bite-sized gaming. i LIKE not feeling like i have to comb through the dark forest to find the waypoint before i can quit, because i dont want to run through the last two areas again if i can avoid it. i LIKe not having to go “wait, hang on, if i put a point here am i going to regret it 40 hours later?”

    the game im most looking forward to right at the moment is another one of these simplified games: gratuitous space battles. ( it looks to satisfy my “i loved moo2 for the shipbuilding micro, but dont have time to play it anymore” problem quite nicely…

  8. LintMan says:

    So, is there any story to it? A beginning and an end? Or are you just playing to score points?

    One really fun quick-casual game I enjoyed was Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. It’s a sci-fi themed space explorer. You can play a game of it in about 20-60 minutes, depending on the number of turns you set the game for.

  9. locusts says:

    I greatly enjoy this title. I got the demo after you spoke of it here, Shamus and bought the full version soon after. I enjoy the game for the very simplicity that you find makes it fall short of your expectations. While I will admit that I expected more initially, what I got is even better. I like the characters, some more than others, and I hunt for the new characters so that I can play with new choices.

    Thank you for the initial review that brought a new game into my life and I hope the next game from these guys fits you better. :)

  10. Neil says:

    “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.”
    Kudos for this statement of perspective. Its the reason I like indy games too.
    When a large comapany puts out a game that I feel is flawed or incomplete, it always seems like its because the game was rushed out of the door before it was done, and its not likely to get fixed (I’m looking at you, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky).
    When an indy game feels flawed or incomplete, I feel like it was a good try, and there will always be room to grow and improve the game on top of a solid concept in response to community advice (Mount & Blade).

  11. radio_babylon says:


    yes!! weird worlds is a fantastic little game… its like a roguelike and master of orion got together and had a casual baby.

    its one of the first games i install on any new system…


    oh and before i forget! if youre looking for a more diablo-like experience than kivi, grab the “depths of peril” demo… same developer, same engine (it actually came first, i think kivi is using the DoP engine), but a LOT more stuff to do, including the diabloish item drops, quests, skill progression etc… with an added “war between the guilds” element…

  12. Cuthalion says:

    Haha! He already played Depths of Peril, actually. Though I suppose your comment would still be useful to other commentors… so I’ma shutup now.

  13. Hal says:

    Y’know Shamus, I gotta give you credit. One of the things that bugs me when I read reviews/criticism is when the writer doesn’t review the piece in question but criticizes it for not being what he wanted it to be. You’re always reviewing things on their own merits, especially using the metric the developers used for themselves. Kudos, sir. Would that there were more of you in the world.

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