Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi has been one of our surprise delights this holiday season, thanks to a finely honed dungeon crawling experience from developers Experience – published by Aksys for PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC.
This wasn’t our first dungeon crawling game from Experience though – they were also behind the underrated gem that was Stranger of Sword City, which we reviewed on the PlayStation Vita five years ago. But while Undernauts is another game in the same genre, it presents us with a new and rather gruesome game world – one where you and a team of treasure seekers head into underground dungeons looking for riches but run into more monsters than they can count – and some will require you to feed them brains that you collect from other fallen foes.
Looking beyond some of the Clive Barker-esque stuff though, you’ll find that much of the creepy stuff has actually been implemented to provide smart ways of creating shortcuts by activating ladders and bridges by sacrificing and/or using items. Function and form are well balanced here, and it’s not a game that uses gruesome imagery just for shock value. And while some of these things are optional, there’s a good deal of puzzle and riddle-solving in the game that’s part of the central narrative as well. In a lengthy campaign inside a large game world, they work well in breaking up the cycle of exploration, loot and battles.
As with any good dungeon crawler, you’ll also need to keep an eye out for your party’s well-being, which starts very early on when you use the character creator – which is rich enough to even let you choose a character profile/backstory for every party member. In-game, you can equip and upgrade weapons and armor and also use both passive and active skills for your characters. Items can be purchased with in-game currency – something you can get more of by melting items in a fusion reactor too, making for some tough choices when you’re in dire need of money. There’s quite a bit of micro-managing to be done in Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi, but all of that also ensures you feel a natural connection to your party.
I personally enjoyed spending a lot of time managing my party, because (as is the case in many dungeon crawlers) progress can feel slow and like a bit of a grind, especially at first when you’re still building up your party to be more powerful in battle. Once you get there, you’ll likely also see the game opening up at the same time. Fast travel points let you get around quickly, but are also gateways to new parts of the world – often with very different visual styles, enemies and challenges than what you faced before. Once you get to that point, all notion of time will fade, and it becomes easy to sink dozens of hours into this one.
But despite excellent gameplay for fans of the genre, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi isn’t a looker – a reminder that we could use a leap forward in the dungeon crawling genre. Stonekeep did it a few years after Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back, but it’s been 25 years. Luckily, during that time, the gameplay formula has only been refined more and more, and Undernauts is telling us the genre is alive and well in 2021.