Many roguelikes and roguelites follow a similar template, and if you've played one, it can feel as though you've played them all. However, they're not all cut from the same cloth; yes, they share some common design and gameplay choices, but others are true outliers that do things differently with the formula. Going Under is one such example. At its core, this is a dungeon crawler with random level layouts to explore and upgrades to find, but it's the mad, vibrantly coloured wrapper that makes it stand out.
You play as Jackie Fiasco, the brilliantly named new intern at Fizzle, a company that makes meal replacement carbonated drinks. It's owned by Cubicle, a huge tech conglomerate that fosters small startups and isn't afraid of shutting them down if they don't perform. Jackie's boss, Marv, instructs her to clear out the lower levels of the building, which are occupied by other businesses that have gone under. This is where you come in, tackling the transformed employees of various companies in their cushy offices.
It might sound like a dull setup, but one of the game's biggest strengths is its presentation and writing. Jackie's colleagues all have wonderful personality, and the dialogue contains some genuinely funny material. Conversations flow like a messaging app — in fact, much of the presentation has that smartphone look to it. This suits the modern setting, and while the character models can look a little simple, the art direction and music fits the tone perfectly.
That goes for the hub location as well as the three "dungeons" — Joblin, Winkydink, and Styxcoin. As we mentioned, these three startup companies make up the bottom floors of an office block, and are each filled with themed baddies and weapons. Joblin is the first and easiest of the three, while the other two locations open up as you progress. We say it's easiest, but Going Under is a fairly challenging game; don't expect to make it to the end on your first try.
As you descend the floors of a dungeon, you'll explore a series of randomly generated rooms. Most contain some enemies to thwart, but each floor contains a shop and some other rooms to discover. You might find a storage room with a choice of two upgrades, or a room featuring an optional challenge. Your ultimate goal for each dungeon is to reach the fourth floor and defeat the boss that resides there, but doing so is easier said than done.
Combat is pretty scrappy. While there are weapons to find, you can pick up pretty much anything and attack your foes. Weapons and objects break fairly quickly, so you're forced to adapt on the fly, using whatever comes to hand against the enemy. Combine this with simple one-button attacks, a lock-on mechanic, and the ability to throw whatever you're holding, and the result is a fun, at times frantic, at times frustrating combat system. Large groups of enemies can be a real pain if you're not equipped for the situation, and there's no guarantee you will be.
Upgrades can make a huge difference to your run, and can certainly help with fights in some cases. There are lots to discover, going from granting you an extra hit point to freezing an enemy when you lock onto them. You'll find plenty of them as you delve into the dungeons, but you can use a currency called Cubits — earned during runs — to unlock even more in the central hub. Using an upgrade in a run builds a meter, and when it's full, you'll be able to equip it before you enter one of the areas. It's a neat system that encourages you to experiment with new builds.
There are some great ideas shown off here. A vampire character called the Hauntrepreneur will offer you some great items and upgrades, if you're willing to take a temporary curse — a great risk vs. reward mechanic. Each of the three dungeons are pretty different, not just aesthetically, but functionally. Winkydink — a failed dating app company — has a unique challenge whereby you can earn yourself an ally if you can defeat the enemy without getting hit. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency spoof Styxcoin has you farming for the digital money, and you can convert it to "real" cash in the shop. Joblin is more straightforward, but it's good that the three dungeons feel distinct.
However, there are only three of them, and even though certain events change things up, you'll have seen everything they offer fairly quickly. It's through a combination of the upgrades you use and the mentor system that keep things fresh. Jackie's aforementioned colleagues will all give you some extra tasks to accomplish in the dungeons, and doing so levels them up as mentors. You can equip one of them, and they'll give you some perks the more you fulfil their wishes. These extra jobs aren't too taxing, but cleverly ensure you'll try out some new things. Again, though, you'll see and do basically everything pretty fast.
Roguelikes and roguelites are by design replayable, but Going Under puts more of an emphasis on story than most. Even though it has the trappings of its genre, dialogue advances between runs, and beating bosses progresses the narrative. It means that, instead of an endless loop, you'll wrap up the story within 10 to 15 hours. Thankfully the funny writing will compel you to keep going and discover what happens to all the characters.
Going Under is a roguelite that ditches some of the genre's usual depth in favour of a compelling satirical tale. It won't last you too long, but there's enough here to hold your interest as you delve into some truly unique dungeons. Though it isn't the best dungeon crawler, it's certainly one of the most unusual, and we love it for that.