Going Under releases to Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on September 24th. Joseph Pugh conducted this review with the PC version.
Going Under is an action rogue-lite where you play as a Jacqueline, a newly hired unpaid intern to Fizzle, a subsidiary of Cubicle. You are then tasked with clearing dungeons underneath of Fizzle that are the leftover remains of other start up companies.
You accomplish this by using whatever you can find as a weapon. This can include pencils, chairs, laptops, and anything else you can get your hands on. The company’s that went under are filled with a variety of transformed employees that you have to battle.
Each run through a company dungeon is procedurally generated. If you get taken out, you return to Fizzle bruised but not defeated. You can unlock new skills to find inside the dungeons and be mentored by your coworkers. Doing tasks for them grants you additional boons from their expertise.
Make Your Dreams Fizzle
Those are the words written the wall of the company you intern at. It pretty much sets the mood for the whole game. Going Under is very much a satirical take on the office workforce with real-life parallels that initially rubbed me the wrong way.
You see, while Going Under is a beat em up rogue-lite where you fight monsters in dungeons, it also features a full story and cast of characters. Jokes about unpaid internships, not having healthcare, forced overtime, and abusive CEOs are funny in a “haha…aww I’m sad now” kind of way. Because that stuff actually happens in real life all the time. It borders a thin line between fiction and reality.
The longer I played and the more the story progressed, it became clear that Going Under wasn’t taking a pot shot at low hanging fruit. (Despite that being the name of an eggplant weapon in the game).
Those concepts are just as wrong in the world of Going Under as they are in real life, and part of the story and various characters’ growth relates to those facts.
While much of the game is tongue in cheek. It has a meaningful if lightweight story with some degree of metaphorical messaging and was done in a respectful way that manages to strike a balance between humor and sincerity. An impressive feat for a rogue-lite where you can hit demons with a body pillow.
The cast of characters are varied and lovable with their own quirks that are both funny, but relatable in many ways. There is a good bit of dialogue in the game, and while most of it isn’t voiced, each character’s text makes a unique sound as they speak.
You know the moment the carefree goofball Swomp is speaking as opposed to the flavor obsessed Fern. It’s a small touch that adds a great deal of personality to the characters. In fact, “Detailed” is a word that can accurately describe most of Going Under.
Every character takes on a stereotype at first glance, but offers a much deeper look into their personalities as the game progresses. A case act of not judging a book by its cover. This is even in the case of the intentionally less likable characters.
While it’s nothing on the level of those big cinematic games everyone raves about, the storytelling in Going Under is on a level far beyond what you would normally find in a rogue-lite. I rarely even require a story at all to enjoy these types of games but, it was a pleasant surprise all the same.
Every time you enter a dungeon in Going Under, you’re weaponless. You can find swords, spears, hammers, and other actual weapons in the dungeons. But there is nothing stopping you from picking up a keyboard and smashing it in some monster’s face.
Weapons break pretty quickly but, nearly every object in the game is usable as a weapon. Monitors, chairs, statues, and even pillows. Some can even have additional effects, such as shocking a foe or setting them on fire.
These same objects have physics and can be sent flying in the chaos. I’ve even entered a room with a weapon in my hand and swatted a laptop off a desk in front me to send it colliding into a baddie on the other side. The combat itself is fairly simple. You have fast attacks, strong attacks and can dodge roll.
Some weapons can be fired from range, and you can throw literally any weapon at an enemy. You can also pick up apps that do different things, such as Winkedin. That one lets you drop message bubbles on a foe that you can also pick up and wield.
As you traverse the dungeons you can pick up skills that help alter your playstyle, such as dropping bombs when you dodge roll or increasing the size of your weapons. Quite a few actually alter your character’s appearance, another nice detail. You lose your skills if you die, but if you use one enough it becomes endorsed. You can choose one endorsed skill to start every dungeon run with.
Cafes can also be found in the dungeons where you can buy items with cash you picked up, and when you return to Fizzle you can spend credits on new skills that will then appear in later runs.
Aside from that, you can accomplish tasks for your co-workers which levels up your mentorship with them. You can equip one mentor at a time, and they can alter how you play. Swomp for example, will steal an item from each cafe for you and eventually even give you some homies to back you up on each floor.
It’s all pretty lightweight, but it works well. The combat is impactful. You can knock enemies backwards or to the ground and send all kind of objects flying and shattering. Though I did find the targeting camera to be wonky at times. The fact that you can pick up any weird item as a weapon is really fun. You have to time your dodges while utilizing your skills wisely, because Going Under is a challenging game.
However, Going Under has an assist feature which basically boils down to a selection of difficulty modifiers. You can adjust how much extra health you get, increase weapon durability, reduce enemy health, and more.
It goes above and beyond the standard difficulty selection, and once again, I’m going to ride this word out, Details. Going Under is full of them. How electronics zap enemies when broken, how dodging rolling into a table causes Jackie to crawl under it. There is one skill that is named after a very minor character. When you’re near a valuable item, that skill makes a sound, when the same character changes as part of the story, the sound that one skill makes changes with it.
From the clever names of the apps you use to the theme of each dungeon, it is all very thematic with Millennial and Zoomer humor. The fact that Avocado Toast regains health and it’s described as a healthy alternative to home-ownership, is just the funny, if painful, tip of the iceberg.
Each dungeon is based on a failed start-up, and the aesthetics, enemies, and items all run wild with the concept. Joblin is filled with Joblins, not goblins. They were contractors all about productivity, which means caffeine. Freelancers jab at you while another type will throw exploding coffee like grenades.
The boss, the Caffiend is a massive Joblin with tubes running into him like an underpaid and overworked Bane. Then when you switch over to Winkydink, a company that was like Tinder but you could only speak with emojis, the whole theme follows suit.
The walls have the words “Thirsty Thirsty Thirsty”. You can pick up and swing demon girl waifu body pillows as a weapon, and emoji blobs appear. Demon girls attack you by throwing hearts, and if they dodge your attack they vanish leaving the words “Ghosted” behind.
Entering the halls of Styxcoin, a failed cryptocurrency firm, pits you against undead miners. Get it? Crypt? Undead? If you don’t think that’s clever then I have a bone to pick with your ghastly and skeletal sense of humor!
Every dungeon type is full of those small but meaningfully thematic details as well as new enemies and environmental hazards from a gameplay perspective. Even the shopkeepers are different with their own various dialogues. Every dungeon has its own music, and the songs are really sound great and have catchy beats. I rarely notice music in games unless it’s irritating, but I have found myself humming some of Going Under’s tracks while making breakfast.
Each set of enemies has to be approached differently, and the boss fights are varied, challenging, and very well designed. Once I had completed what I thought was the end of the game, I was asked to go through each dungeon once more, and I rolled my eyes so hard they nearly fell out.
Going Under surprised me once again, while Joblin, Winkydink, and Styxcoin were still the themes for the dungeons, the aesthetics and hazards had changed. Previous enemies were altered, new ones were added, and the boss fights were completely different. Even the music tracks were remixed.
Going Under is Aggro Crabs’ first game, and they came out of the gate swinging that body pillow really hard. The amount of detail and effort that was put into the game’s design is nearly unheard of for an indie rogue-lite, and I am thoroughly impressed. Every time I made an assumption about the game, I was proven to have made an ass of myself instead.
Going Under’s solid combat, thematic grace, and clever details make it a thoroughly enjoyable romp from beginning to end. That said, it’s simplicity means it only has enough oomph to reach the finish line.
The combat is solid and fun, but it can devolve into button mashing. While the skills and apps do add to the game, it’s actual game-play variety is limited. This doesn’t significantly impact the game as it stands now. The great enemy variety made sure it only started to wear thin toward the tail end of my 10 hours.
However, if you fail a significant amount, meaning you have to keep re-running the dungeons until you succeed, your mileage may vary and the game may start spitting and sputtering before the trip is done. By that same token, I find that Going Under lacks the replay ability known for the genre. I have no desire to return to the game now that I have finished it.
Don’t fret, however, I see Going Under as a kind of sub-genre. View it as an 8 to 10-hour action-adventure romp with a nice story that just happens to feature rogue-lite elements to spice it up.
Those few hiccups are small blemishes on an otherwise great game. The combat proves to be an entertaining challenge and you can tweak it as much as you desire. The lovingly detailed designs of the world make it one that is worth seeing. Its environment isn’t just a backdrop, they are a character of their own.
Going Under might lack the replay value of other roguelites, but it makes up for it in charm, detail, and theme with great enemy variety, solid gameplay, and well-designed boss fights. Top it off with a small yet well written humorous story, and you have a game worth interning for.
If you found this review informative, you may enjoy my review of Crown Trick!
A copy of Going Under was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Team 17 for the purpose of review.
- Solid and responsive combat
- Using nearly every object as a weapon is super cool
- Varied dungeons with their own enemies, hazards, and details
- Great boss fights
- Nice story with charming characters, and fun humor
- Catchy music tracks
- Small thematic details permeate the entire game
- Customizable difficulty sliders go beyond standard settings
- Neat mentor system and variety of skill pick-ups
- Simplistic combat can wear thin eventually
- Lacks the replay value the genre is known for
- The camera can be wonky at times
- 10 hours is a little short, but any longer and it would have overstayed it’s welcome.