After tens of hours with both Hades and Spelunky 2, I figured that I was due a break with the rogue-lite genre. Then Going Under came along to show that there’s plenty more I hadn’t seen yet.
Going Under has you playing as Jackie, an intern at Fizzco who finds that her placement will have her killing monsters in dungeons rather than doing any marketing. These aren’t just any dungeons though, as each of them represents a failed start-up that has gone under. It’s your job (unpaid, mind) to go into these dungeons and defeat the bosses to collect artifacts to help Fizzco stay on top.
The real star of the show here are the characters. Jackie is a depressingly accurate take on someone who has a degree and doesn’t feel like it’s being put to use, whilst the surrounding cast around her feel like tropes taken to the highest degree. The little bits of story and interaction you get in between each dungeon make each failed attempt feel worth it, and the overall narrative is a lot of fun. Swomp in particular always felt worth talking to because we’ve all had at least one friend like him, and his asinine objectives for Jackie always made me laugh.
As someone who finds myself in the same period of life as Jackie, I appreciated that Going Under manages to strike the right balance of satire and still be fun. Yes, this is a brutal takedown of everything wrong with modern businesses, internships and the job prospects for young graduates, but it’s also self-aware enough not to make that a very depressing affair.
The presentation is another element that sets Going Under apart from other games in the genre. The style is somewhere between modern CBeebies (that’s a reference for the ones in the back!) and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. It’s both very unique looking and technically impressive with so many items having physics that react to the chaos going on around you. I also enjoyed the somewhat repetitive bit-tune music that plays throughout each dungeon, although playing through repeatedly can get a bit annoying. The Nintendo Switch version has some slowdown and frame-drops compared to the other console versions but it’s a small trade-off for being able to fight through the dungeons on the go.
Thankfully, Going Under is a lot of fun in its gameplay too. Jackie starts each dungeon with no weapons but similarly to something like Dead Rising, everything you find can be used as a weapon. Massive protractors and electrifying tablet pens can be just as useful as swords and guns, and it’s a lot of fun messing around with the whole arsenal of items here. The combat is simple to learn but has some intricacies to it that make learning all of its systems a lot of fun.
One thing the player needs to learn is how each dungeon works. Although there are only three dungeons, each of them pokes fun at a different thing and changes enough of the enemies and gameplay elements around that they feel distinct. You have Joblin, a take on job-finding apps, Styxcoin, a jab at bit-coin and cash apps and finally Winkydink which is a particularly brutal take on dating apps. Besides having different enemies and themes, they all have some different gameplay challenges, like being able to convert Styxcoin to real money or having to defeat a certain number of enemies in a time limit.
Jackie can also come across different skills that will change up the gameplay per run. Much like the weapons, there’s a good variety of them here and it was only towards the end of my playtime where I started wanting a few more. One of my favourite elements of Going Under was how it mixes up the rogue-like elements so that it always feels like you’re making progress. The mentor system gives you a special ability that upgrades depending on how many tasks you do for that mentor and you can also pin one separate skill to always equip for a run depending on how much you’ve used it. These systems mean that every run matters in one way or another, which can be a very difficult thing for the genre to balance effectively.
That being said, Going Under definitely isn’t as unforgiving as other games of its ilk. The aforementioned mentor and skills system can give players a leg-up, as does the permanent health increase earned from completing each dungeon for the first time. I actually managed to get through each dungeon on my second go, before realising that the game was going easy on me and required me to do it all over again with harder bosses. This second round of dungeons is actually quite challenging, but it still remains fun.
It would be easy to say that Going Under’s witty characters and fantastic presentation carry it, but underneath its sarcastic surface there’s a great rogue-like that’s entirely worth checking out all on its own. Don’t let it go under your radar.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Team17