Forget the barbarian. Forget about the vengeful swordsman, and the knight of destiny. Now think back to the last time you were at the comic book shop, and try to remember the guy that was debating with the clerk. Now put him in the castle instead. And there you have the core gimmick of Unepic, a fanasty-themed platformer mixing elements of Metroidvania with hack-and-slash. So how does this nerdy everyman fare in a demon-infested castle, and how did he even get there?
The tale begins over a simple game of Dungeons & Dragons. As the protagonist takes a bathroom break, the lights die; when he illuminates the room with a Zippo, he finds himself instead in a dungeon. And that is how he got there.
For an incredible duration of the journey, he is able to convince himself that it is all a drug-induced hallucination, though he still readily abides by the rules of an action-RPG. You collect weapons, equipment, spells, and potions at a steady pace, while doing the usual leveling-up and exploring.
In what could be a daring fusion of RPG elements of old and contemporary 2D platforming, Unepic fails to make either engaging. The character building is frustratingly shallow, and traversal of the castle is heavily hampered by the stiff controls and finicky combat. It’s a shame, then, since there are some genuinely interesting areas to explore, ranging from the vast to the intricate.
These mediocrities would be more forgivable if the game’s namesake carried such contrast from the fantastic to the mundane; unfortunately, all Unepic has to offer is a slew of pop-culture references and an embarrassingly nerdy protagonist. He’s obnoxious, pig-headed, and horny, the less desirable stigmas associated with nerd culture. The jokes presented have the hit-miss ratio of an Uzi, ranging from cute (the sidekick being a botched possession, constantly trying to persuade the protagonist to his grave) to absolutely groan worthy (a joke ripped piece for piece from Mel Brook’s Space Balls, enough said). While there some good chuckles to be had, a majority of the chatter feels sophomoric and overplayed, lacking the subtlety to make the characters relate and the jokes punch.
Even if much of the adventure can be a bit bland, there is still a lot of it, and the game knows how to keep you busy, peppering in minor quests alongside the exploration. Autosaves are frequent enough to ease frustration but not to the point of being a crutch, and navigating new areas is actually deeply satisfying thanks to one simple mechanic. All areas start off nearly pitch black, and as you fight through, you are able to light torches much in the vein of collectibles, giving one the feeling of slowly conquering the darkness.
Ultimately, Unepic isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a great one either. Its Konami influence is blatant, though it does little to set itself from the pack, save its corny humor. However, as a one-man job with a fair price and serviceable multiplayer, Unepic does have its audience. If the writing of the game’s trailer seems to speak to you and a dungeon grind can keep your interest, this game just might be a blast. If not, you might want to just go back to the whip and cross.