Initially released back on the PC in 2011 before subsequently being released on WiiU and Xbox One, Unepic has finally made it’s way to PS4 and Vita (complete with cross play and cross save).
The premise will be instantly familiar to anyone who watched the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon as a kid: the protagonist is inexplicably transported to a fantasy realm. Just take away the weird magician bloke, the peppy teens, and the enchanted roller coaster and replace it with a pissed off 20-something, an uppity spirit, and a very weird trip to the bathroom. OK, maybe it’s not that similar, but the core premise is the same…if you squint.
The action starts with the game’s protagonist Daniel taking a break from an RPG session with some friends to have a piss. However for some inexplicable reason after the lights go out, the bathroom has magically transformed into the bowels of a castle. It’s at this point that Daniel quite logically concludes that he must be hallucinating (I suppose that is what you get for taking a boat load of acid before you get your D&D on).
After leaving the former bathroom, Daniel is ambushed by an evil Spirit he calls Zera, the guardian of the castle who attempts to possess our hapless hero. Try as he might, Zera can’t gain control of Daniel’s body and is instead reduced to taunting him and feeding him useless information, and so becomes Daniel’s uncooperative guide until Zera can figure out a way to get him killed.
Thus begins Daniel’s Unepic journey through the castle to figure out what the hell is going on and eventually find a way to get home, although he’s pretty sure that he is in fact still in his friend’s bathroom screaming at the cat.
If you hadn’t guessed yet, Unepic is a comedy, and the humor is one of the games strongest aspects, especially the constant bickering between Daniel and Zera. Though Zera starts out as somewhat of an asshole, by the end of it you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor bugger, reduced as he is from a malevolent evil spirit to some slacker’s side-kick. On the whole, it’s great stuff, and the banter between Zera and Daniel is a constant source of amusement.
The best way to sum up Unepic stylistically and gameplay-wise, is to imagine Symphony of the Night being ported to the Amiga 600 (or the bastard child of Faxanadu and Odyssey). Gameplay follows the typical, non-linear pathways of a good Metroidvania game with new areas opening up as you defeat boss monsters and swipe their closely-guarded key needed to unlock other parts of the castle. Getting from one part of the map to the next is made easier thanks to the game’s central hub that allows you to quickly travel back to previously explored areas.
The game also includes light RPG elements which are fairly open ended that allow you to customise Daniel’s abilities pretty much any way you want. Despite the D&D overtones, you’re not forced to give Daniel a class like a fighter, mage, etc. Instead, you’re given skill points every time he levels up, which can be distributed among the various weapon classes however you want. This allows you to build Daniel up in a manner that fits your playstyle, enabling you to make him favor melee, ranged, or magic attacks, or any combination of the three.
As you explore the world, you’ll also have to use the lighter to set fire to torches throughout the dungeon in order to see where you’re going. It’s also a great way of figuring out where you have been before as torches remain lit when you return to an area, helping you to navigate the castle and hopefully get lost a little less.
Though Unepic looks like a lost sidescroller from the early 16-bit era, and the visuals have a certain retro charm to them and underneath the aged veneer, it is a still a modern game, complete with regular checkpoints in the lower difficulties. The easiest setting allows you to pretty much bungle your way through any situation while the hardest is extremely unforgiving to say the least. However, even on the easiest setting, chances are you’ll die regularly.
As previously mentioned, the game features both cross save and cross buy, allowing you to play at home and then carry on exploring while you’re out and about. Although the action on screen appears quite small even on a large TV, surprisingly the game translates rather well to the Vita. In fact, with the action in your palms instead of across the room, I found it a lot easier to follow. The controls do also differ slightly so it takes a couple minutes to adjust when switching between platforms. The one feature I think the game could have benefited from was second screen play with the Vita, which would have given it the great on the fly, item management and map features found in the Wii U version.
Speaking of missing features, the console version of Unepic is censored, to give the game a 12+ rating, whereas in the PC version there is the option to tailor the experience to be either 12 or 16+ in the settings. The main change is Daniel no longer saying “fuck” at various points in the game and wearing boxer shorts when you remove all his clothing, rather than being completely nude (complete with pixelated penis). A questline involving a particularly randy orc has also been rewritten to remove its overtly sexual overtones. Although these changes don’t diminish the experience to any great extent, if you’re the kind of person that wants the full unadulterated experience, I would recommend giving the game a go on the PC instead.
Regardless of what platform you choose to play it on, I would recommend giving Unepic a whirl. It’s a charming, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable homage to gaming in the 80’s and 90’s, and a damn fine action RPG to boot. It doesn’t really innovate in any way whatsoever, but the witty repartee between the game’s leads and great self aware script make it one of the most satisfying trips to the loo I’ve taken in a long time.
Unepic was reviewed on PS4/Vita with a copy provided by the publisher
Publisher: EnjoyUp | Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses | Genre: Action/Adventure | Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita ,WiiU,Xbox One| PEGI/ESRB: 12+/T | Release Date: September 30, 2011 (PC), January 16, 2014 (Wii U), 8 January, 2016 (Xbox One), 29 March, 2016 (PS4, Vita) | Controls: Gamepad, Mouse & Keyboard