Unepic was developed in Spain by Francisco Téllez de Meneses and various collaborators. Previously exclusive to the PC, it was recently brought to the Wii U eShop by EnjoyUp, a publisher that's perhaps best known for publishing La-Mulana on WiiWare. Can this indie game impress or is it really just like the title suggests? Read on to find out…
Ever played a board game with some friends, went to the toilet and randomly got teleported into a castle full of deadly enemies and traps, that has to be explored and conquered in hope of finding a way back out? That's the story of Unepic in a nutshell and it's just as much of a joke as it initially sounds throughout the entire game. It's fairly amusing for the most part, although forced and unnecessary references to things like weed or movies sadly outnumber the genuinely clever ones.
After the initial tutorial segment where the game explains many of its basic mechanics in a good way, the player is tasked to defeat guardians that hold keys for other big areas of the castle. While there is a set order in which these areas have to be visited, there are still plenty of rooms to be explored for additional side-quests, experience, equipment and items. It feels very rewarding and exploration is further encouraged by a clever castle layout with two or three teleport points per area. Lighting all candles or torches in a room will also cause it to show up as explored on the map, making it very convenient to keep track of overall progress.
While the GamePad screen serves as a helpful shortcut menu for weapons, items and spells when the game is played on the TV, it's actually a much better experience when played Off-TV. This is mainly because the TV always shows a zoomed out view of the entire room, but when the game is played entirely on the GamePad it's possible to zoom in on the character which really does help a lot depending on the situation. The controls can also be changed to any button, with the exception of the analogue stick that is always used for movement and sadly can't be changed to the D-pad instead, which does feel a lot more natural for a 2D game.
Each level up grants five skill points to distribute into weapon categories - constitution, potion crafting, armour and several different kinds of magic types that have to be gradually obtained throughout the adventure. This allows for some fairly in-depth character customisation and can significantly affect the overall experience, as certain parts that are quite easy with one build can prove to be tricky with another. Different kinds of melee weapons aren't mere palette swaps, either, as each has certain advantages and disadvantages. For example, a cutting weapon such as a sword is more effective against living creatures, while a blunt weapon proves far more useful against skeletons. Improvisation and clever use of items and spell scrolls is needed to overcome those obstacles, even though some can be a bit cheap, such as invisible ghosts that can steal equipped weapons and then attack with them. While exploration and combat are a big part of the game, Unepic also has a fair amount of platforming to do.
There are four difficulties to suit the needs of different players. Easy mode features slowly regenerating health, monsters that only deal 75% of the normal damage and an optional auto-save feature. The Medium setting only retains the auto-saving, while Hard gets rid of it and gives monsters far better sight, which makes them harder to ambush or sneak by. Hard++ retains that but also removes the short invincibility period after one gets hit and offers more equality between the player and monsters. Playing on the two harder difficulties is rewarded with an additional skill point per level on Hard and two skill points per level on Hard++ to allow for greater flexibility when it comes to the character setup. The general difficulty isn't extremely hard but it still encourages careful approaches towards enemies and other hazards to avoid quick deaths, as well as some thought be put into character progression and equipment.
The gameplay is a mix of exploration, combat and platforming with solid controls that offers a fair challenge for the most part. It's nothing revolutionary, but well-crafted and addictive nonetheless.
While the graphical style is intentionally old-school, the art is well done and the environments are fairly varied despite the entire game taking place in a castle.
The voice acting is decent enough considering the overall tone of the story. The soundtrack is much better, though, with some catchy tunes and moody sounds tailored to the theme of each part of the castle.
There are numerous different areas to explore and quests to tackle before the game ends, which should take most players between 15 to 20 hours on the regular difficulty. There are three different endings but they are fairly insignificant for replay value compared to trying to beat the game with a different character setup and perhaps on a higher difficulty.
Unepic may not stand out as one of the more original titles in the genre but it does what it sets out to do very well, offering plenty of addictive exploration, challenging combat and fairly in-depth character customisation. It comes highly recommended for RPG enthusiasts looking for a retro action-RPG with modern features at a fairly reasonable price of £8.99.