The indie game scene has had a profound impact on the gaming industry, allowing smaller developers to thrive, with lower-budget titles releasing in an industry often dominated by huge budget AAA releases. It has also allowed previously neglected and relatively unknown genres to prosper and find a new audience. Few genres have benefitted more than the rogue-lite which, along with 2D platformers, has become one of the go-to gameplay styles for many indie developers. Indie-darling Spelunky is widely considered to be the first game to coin the term rogue-lite but this genre has had some huge hits over the years, with the likes of FTL: Faster Than Light, The Binding of Isaac and Crypt of the Necrodancer proving to be hugely popular, with each putting their own spin on the rogue-lite genre. The latest developer to throw their hat into the ring is the brilliantly named Aggro Crab, with their first published game, Going Under. Yet in a world dominated by rogue-lites, can Going Under stand out from the crowd? Read on to find out.
Developed by Aggro Crab Games
Published by Team17 Digital Ltd
Released: 24th September 2020
While many rogue-lites opt for a fantasy setting, Going Under goes for something rather different, taking place in the dystopian city of Neo-Cascadia. You play as an unpaid intern, Jackie, who is recruited through the impoverished internship initiative to work at a drink manufacturer, the appropriately named Fizzle. Fizzle is the latest start-up company to fall under the ownership of a much larger corporation, Cubicle, who themselves are a clear parody of Amazon. Though Jackie expects to be joining Fizzle in a marketing role, she is almost immediately tasked with killing a monster which has escaped from the basement! Jackie’s first kill is so impressive that she is instructed to go down to the basement and kill the rest. Refuse and she may as well kiss goodbye to the internship! As the above might suggest, Going Under is a game which is heavily satirical. Capitalism is the focus of the satire, with convenience, corporate culture and a weary workforce all falling under the spotlight. As with any form of satire, your mileage may vary in terms of how funny you find this to be but Aggro Crab’s writing usually shines and I found Going Under to have some genuinely funny moments.
The core gameplay follows Jackie as she progresses through the basement, moving through different stages across three dungeons, fighting off a variety of different monsters. What makes each dungeon interesting is that they’re themed after a failed start-up company, such as the emoji-based dating company – WinkyDinks. Jackie must fight her way through each of these dungeons, which consist of a series of stages spread across three floors, the final one of which houses that dungeon’s boss. Most stages within each floor revolve around combat, however other rooms can also be found, including shops which allow for the purchase of health items and other rooms which provide special abilities. Due to the procedurally generated nature of Going Under’s dungeon design, each playthrough has a different feel, something which helps to keep the game feeling fresh and adds to the game’s replay value. After completion, you can also revisit stages, using new perks gained from your allies, something which adds to the replayability of the game.
The combat itself is relatively simplistic, but enjoyable nonetheless, with Jackie able to pick up just about anything that isn’t nailed down and use it as a weapon. Weapons break quickly, forcing you to experiment with different kinds of weaponry on a regular basis, a nice touch which ensures that you don’t become reliant on specific weaponry. This can lead to some quite frantic gameplay sequences as you desperately reach for any items which will help you to defeat your foes. Defeating these enemies allows you to collect currency that can be used in the shops across each level, allowing the purchase of items which can be key to progressing through some of the game’s tougher stages. Going Under’s combat manages to provide a satisfying level of challenge but never feels unfair and the diversity of the game’s weaponry will keep you coming back for more.
The visual design of Going Under is quite basic, with simple blocky characters and limited animation. Yet it’s all extremely charming, using a vibrant colour palette to really make the visuals stand out. The special effects almost seem to leap out of the screen as you take out the games varied enemies. More detailed, yet heavily stylised art is also used alongside character speech when they interact, giving you a clearer look at both Jackie and the rest of Going Under’s colourful cast. Most importantly of all, Going Under runs smoothly which is crucial for a game such as this. The music and sound effects both take a similarly simplistic approach but have plenty of charm and I found myself quickly humming along to the dungeon themes.
The key question here is, can Going Under stand-out in an already saturated genre? Particularly at a time which has seen other rogue-lites such as Hades and Spelunky 2 release to critical acclaim. The answer is a resounding, yes. Going Under’s unique presentation, well-written and creative premise and quirky combat make for a really enjoyable experience which is well worth picking up. It’s a hugely promising debut from Aggro Crab and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Final Rating – 4 out of 5
I have been gaming for 30 years, starting mostly with PC Gaming, where I developed a penchant for classic point and click games. Over time I discovered Nintendo, starting with the Game Boy and the Super Mario Land games. Here, my love for Nintendo grew as I discovered many of their other franchises, from Zelda to Pokémon. These days I play a bit of everything but Nintendo and their unique creativity always keeps me coming back for more.