Overall Score 92%
The Lumen have grown soft. Seldom leaving the safety of their city, ancient tales of combat and monsters are now dismissed as legends. When Kivi and a group of Lumen on a mining expedition are ambushed by Dark Elves, leaving Kivi the only survivor, the other Lumen don't believe him. Kivi sets out to prove the threat is real, aided by a steadily growing band of friends.
Kivi's Underworld is described as a casual RPG, and this is pretty accurate. It combines the traditional RPG style (hunting monsters, finding secrets, leveling up, etc) with a much simpler interface. Kivi (or whichever character you are playing) is moved by clicking with the left mouse button. Click on a monster to attack it; click on a chest or door to open it; and so on. The right mouse button activates your special power, which varies with each character and requires mana. Both health and mana recharge slowly over time, and plenty of pickups (dropped by monsters or found in chests, barrels etc) replenish them faster.
Pickups are everywhere. Kill monsters, open chests and smash barrels, statues, totems and more besides - you'll reveal something more often than not. Pickups range from score bonuses (such as treasures) to weapon/armour boosts to a range of special powers - magic attacks, shields, regenerative potions, far more besides. You can only carry three of these at a time, so you'll need to use one up before you can pick up a fourth. Click on one or hit the space bar or numbers 1-3 to activate them.
The simple interface means that casual players can get straight into the game without worrying about classes or different weapon types or exactly what "2d6" means. They just explore, kill monsters and so on. New characters are unlocked either through certain quests or by scoring enough points and you can take any character on any quest. There are rewards for finding all secrets, killing all monsters and not losing any lives. There's no issue with money either - score is the important thing, with bonuses available for various treasures and special bonuses for certain actions (such as the Marauder Bonus for smashing five objects within a few seconds).
I could tell from first glance that this was a game with a lot of polish. The graphics are high quality stuff - though the isometric viewpoint cannot be shifted, walls between your character and the "camera" turn translucent to prevent things being blocked. Items are "tagged" to aid recognition and selection (you can click on the object OR the tag) and are highlighted when you hover the mouse cursor over them. There are several styles of "dungeon" on the various missions, from icy caves to desert sands, and enemies are diverse and easily recognised.
There is limited music, which works in Kivi's favour. Soft background music accompanies the title and selection screens but the missions themselves are largely sans music - the exceptions being when an event occurs, such as being attacked. Sound effects, however, are plentiful. Barrels smash, weapons slice and chop, magic spells whoosh and bang, monsters growl, doors rattle open and more besides. There's even a voiceover reading for the quest texts! All these aspects can be individually adjusted.
The simple controls, gentle learning curve and always being able to try again make this an ideal game for the more casual player. There are even incentives to replay - earn all the trophies, for instance; find all the secrets; unlock all the monsters in the bestiary. If you unlock a new character and want to try them out, you can replay an earlier mission rather than go straight into the latest. Each replay is a little different - pickups, attacks and so on are all a little random. Playing well in the earlier missions will help you - trophies are awarded for completed missions, and the better the trophy, the more points you have to spend on your characters' abilities.
I did spot a couple of annoyances. When your character is surrounded by enemies, it can be hard to attack the right ones. When your character is moving, it's occasionally hard to click on an object as the screen scrolls. I'd like to be able to swap powerups with new ones rather than use them up, though part of me actually likes this restriction. More concerning was the bug with object tags appearing some distance from the actual object - Kivi (or whoever) would go to the tag if I clicked on it rather than the object. It's a minor hiccup in an otherwise very well playtested game.
Minor grouches aside, Kivi's Underworld is a high quality offering which will appeal to both the more casual market and the more experienced RPG fan looking for something fun and easy to get into. Every aspect has clearly been given full attention and honed to a sharp edge. Well done, Soldak Entertainment!
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