Thanks to Digerati for the review code
Title: Unexplored: Unlocked Edition
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 08/09/2018
In this top-down dungeon crawler, you take control of a hero who sets out to explore dungeons… With no story! The game’s dungeons are randomly generated and thus outside of some flavor text before you start the game, it’s just solely a dungeon-crawling adventure, with the main goal being to reach the end of a dungeon, slay a dragon, steal an amulet and escape.
Unexplored is a pretty typical looking top-down dungeon crawler: you control your cute little eyeball guy as you navigate throughout the randomly generated floors or whichever dungeon is made for you. Despite what the key art may imply, the game has a pretty cute artstyle, with simplistic shapes for the characters that kinda give me Color Zen vibes, and I just absolutely found the eyeball you play as adorable to customize. You can choose from a variety of options, and even give him a voice. (though I didn’t find any of the voices to be good, so I just turned it off)
The UI on the other hand does take some getting used to. It feels a lot like the sort of stuff you’d see in a typical PC game, with all sorts of buttons and inventory slots and the like, so it’s pretty obvious why Unexplored opts to hide most of it by default, only pulling it up with a press of the shoulder buttons when you absolutely need it. Still, I got used to controlling the UI rather quickly, and the minimap you can enlarge is a godsend for exploring the labyrinth.
Easily the biggest surprise Unexplored provided, was the quality of the OST. Having played many, many roguelike games and encountering the same trope-fulfilling types of songs over and over again, I was very much expecting Unexplorered to do the same, but to my surprise, I was utterly blown away by a phenomenal environmental piece, just working at providing a calm, yet imminent sense of fear as I made my way through the floor, moving onto the next ones. The game rotates from a variety of similar pieces, and while I much preferred the calmer ones, a lot of this soundtrack manages to stand out as solid pieces, so you’ll definitely not get sick of the music while playing this.
Unexplored, is a twin-stick dungeon crawler. It controls literally the same way as they all do, with twin stick aiming and back shoulder button attacks, while the front shoulder buttons are used to bring up the menus and inventory. It’s quick and easy to get into if you know the basics of anything else in this vein, which means the core focus is how the game is structured and plays.
Upon generating a seed and being thrown onto the first floor, it’s up to you to focus on whatever you need to do in order to get through: whether that comes from solving puzzles, hitting switches, lifting levels, or killing enemies, each run is entirely random and can be customized from a series of presets: do you want an enemy heavy gauntlet of death, or a puzzle-focused, mind-bending adventure? It’s pretty customizable, which I found rather neat, as it allowed me to pick a playstyle to my liking, and just have a good few hours of dungeon exploring fun. The combat is fairly standard, with you using your weapons to do battle with enemies, and sometimes the situation would mandate you solve things in a slightly different way: either by using a potion as a weapon (per the norm, you don’t know the effects until you use them!), or finding throwable items to hit distant foes or switches, so if you’ve played a rogue-style game, you’ll find a lot of familiarity here.
Of course, as is usual with these types of games, you can even enter the code of a seed, if someone you watched or a run you played intrigued you enough to give it another go for yourself. You even have a gallery of achievements and high score run attempts to look back at, so if you want to get technical and obsessively complete the game in every way possible, that’s how you track it.
Unfortunately, this game, or at least the switch port I’m reviewing, comes with a very, very fatal flaw that completely hampered my enjoyment. Sure, things control fine enough still, but as you navigate through the dungeon, the game procedurally generates future floors for you to go down, so they’re ready for you upon arriving there. Sadly, every single time it generates a floor, the entire game pauses, displays a message letting you know that it’s generating more of the dungeon, and resumes loading again.
I do not know if this constant loading pacebreaker is in other versions to the extent it is here, but it drove me utterly mad to be wandering around a floor, navigating my way to the stairs, only for the whole game to freeze for a few seconds just so it could load a floor that’s eons away. There was seemingly no option at all to turn this off or have the loading take place when I actually get to an ungenerated floor, so I was stuck dealing with this constantly in my runs, which was no fun at all. Apparently, the launch state of the game was even worse in this regard, so it’s kinda terrifying that this fully patched version is still a huge pain in the ass to play with this pacebreaker. While I did have a good amount of fun, the constant pausing did quite a lot to break any interest I had in wanting to fully complete a run, since all the pointless generation would just ultimately waste time that I could spend doing other things.
In conclusion, was this game worth a four year wait for me to get to covering? Well, it ended up being more fun than I thought it would be, and some of the music honestly caught me off guard by how good it was: if you wanted a twin-stick dungeon crawler, this is a very serviceable affair.
Unfortunately, the constant slowdown from loading dungeon floors is enough of a pace breaker to drive me absolutely insane, and I’m not gonna lie when I also point out that this sort of game has been done many of time before. Still, you have a solid foundation, a fun gameplay loop, and a great pick up and play experience, so if you can get this on sale and really do not mind the agonizing floor loading, you may have a good amount of fun going on runs with this! I do not understand why this got buried in my queue for so long outside of the obvious 2019/2020 struggles, but I’m very glad to have given it a shot, but if the other versions fix the loading hitches when generating floors, I strongly urge you to just go for those ports instead: consider this version only as a last resort for handheld play, and only then, on sale, since the $15 asking price is rather steep for such an unoptimized experience.
I give Unexplored: Unlocked Edition a 5 out of 10.