Going Under Review (Switch)
Release Date: September 24, 2020
File Size: 1.2GB
Developer: Aggro Crab Games
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Ah, the roguelite. While its name might imply otherwise, these games can be just as challenging as their roguelike brethren, largely due to the developer’s understanding of difficulty scaling. A game can remain challenging even if it has the same procedural layouts and mechanics revised and combined to further complicate objectives. Task complexity is a problem we encounter throughout our lives, not only in video games. It only makes sense that artistic mediums should blur the line between work and play, and Going Under applies the concept of routine to the roguelite in a much more literal sense. A game about startup businesses, bandwagon-jumpers, productivity jargon, and all the banal, surface-level interactions that come with them, developer Aggro Crab tells a charming, yet soul-crushing tale about the monsters born from corporate mismanagement.
Going Under puts the player in the shoes of unassuming intern Jackie, who is working- unpaid, even!- at Fizzle, a soda pop-up (pun intended?) that aims to use the smartest flavorology, technology and money management to leave their mark on the beverage landscape. The only problem is that their headquarters is located on the remains of past business gone under- which means their basement is packed with employees-turned savage. The lowest on the food chain, Jackie is sent to clean out the catacombs and retrieve the powerful trinkets of productivity located at their deepest points.
Jackie is a beefy-armed young lady with plenty of gumption, and she can carry up to three pieces of weaponry at a time. Cycling through these items using the L and R bumpers allows you to command a variety of tools at any moment in time, but each weapon type has its own attack animations and abilities. You have single handed weapons like pencils, daggers, and bones, two-handed weapons like clubs, broadswords, and cactuses, ranged two-handers like pitchforks, mops, spears, even heavier weapons, like utility dollies and giant rotisserie bones. There’s more to consider, such as ranged weapons and over-the-head items, but to say there’s a shortage of variety in Going Under would be simply unfair. Jackie swipes, stabs, smacks, and smashes by pressing the Y button and can set up a heavy attack by holding it, however these often have even more committal wind-up animations than the usual and can be very risky maneuvers. When her weapons are fit to burst or if you’re looking to keep your distance, Jackie can fling her equipment at enemies by locking on with ZL and flinging with ZR. Either way, your weapons have limited durability and that’s something to constantly keep in mind.
Jackie can also perform dodge-rolls with the B button, which turns into a Zelda-like back-step when locked on to an enemy. With how hectic rooms can become, it can be a bit dangerous to focus all your efforts on a single enemy, but accuracy is always helpful. In addition, she can pick up limited-use Apps with the X button that range from a temporary mimic mob assistant to a full-floor map reveal, or even my personal favorite: a distracting waving tube mascot. The game’s run-based perks, which are active and passive buffs with huge variety, can be discovered in crates scattered throughout dungeons and at the end of each floor. Perks can be as silly as they are useful, increasing the size of Jackie’s arms so that she can hold two-handed weapons like a one-handed option, giving her an attack bonus whenever she eats food to heal, or causing her to drop bombs where ever she rolls about. The more damage you deal with these perks equipped, the more you’ll max out their potential, which unlocks them as an option at the start of the run.
You can only choose one of these options, but they work in tandem with the mentor system. This operates as the game’s quests, but possess an added bonus, as each task you complete for a specific mentor (and yes, you can complete multiple quests from different mentors during a single run) will unlock more of their mentorship abilities, powerful buffs that increase the amount of in-game currency dropped, the ability to hold more Apps, or even the potential of finding more perks reliably on dungeon floors. You will have to pick which mentor you want to start your run with, however, as each has a specific set of abilities that cannot be mixed and matched. These can drastically decrease the difficulty of a run while also providing a pointed task to complete as you run around and explore. Some of these are slow-burns, though, like the “defeat 10 enemies with a bricked phone” weapon, which combines a hard-to-find weapon with a kill-state objective.
That’s just about the gist of things! You’ll use a meta currency to actually purchase those perks you unlock for the Fizzle lobby, and thankfully, the more dungeons you complete, the more you’ll increase your overall health, making future runs more manageable. The standard procedural roguelike level design applies here, with shops and event rooms popping up frequently to help or hinder survivability. Each dungeon does have its own gimmick events, but they mostly involve killing enemies as fast as possible for additional currency or perks. If there’s any game that has benefitted from its aesthetics, however, it’s definitely Going Under. I think that means “it’s time for a segue!”
Aesthetics and Narrative
You know all those nausea-inducing corporate graphic design stock images? That’s literally Going Under’s whole aesthetic. Fortunately, the 2D character portraits- despite being freakish approximations of human proportion and form- are actually rather charming, but I’m not certain I can say the same about the 3D models. While most of the enemy designs have a consistency and quality to them, Jackie herself is the most bizarre of the bunch, lacking a neck and touting those aforementioned sausage arms. But in terms of color palette and sheer oddity, everything gels together smoothly in a vibrant and visually stimulating soup.
All four of the dungeons have their own unique aesthetics that are remixed upon completion of a certain plot-related event, managing to satirize the odd corporate nightmare dreamscape that the developers clearly wish to poke fun at. You have a pencil-pushing, coffee-sipping goblin cubicle dungeon, a sexually-discomforting, love-guru dating app dungeon, and a literal bitcoin mine. While the last of these could definitely use a few new NFT rooms, they are all witty interpretations of the absurdity inherent in each scenario, and their varied color schemes and enemy types offer unique sights and challenges.
Going Under has an extremely catchy soundtrack, composed in-house by the developers themselves, which pulsates with vibrant energy and smooth synth instruments in a way that feels similar to this year’s Boyfriend Dungeon, albeit with a little more pep. The instrumentation allows for both laid-back elevator music exploration as well as quirky combat bops to worm their way into your head during play. There’s a great juxtaposition of serene and frenetic energy to be found in the game, and it fits the comedic nature of the dialogue, sound effects, and animations.
There’s no doubt that the team at Aggro Crab have feelings about the wacky world of startup business, and while their dungeons are humorous takes on the absurd trends in our late-capitalist world, they are also caricatures of potentially toxic work environments. Productivity, compliance, harassment, and more are all subjects broached, but never developed, and it is only in the discussions with some of Fizzle’s mentors that you hear some of the genuine wear and tear employees experience due to their workplace. Some mentors are overly passionate about their job, others spout motivational quotes they can’t understand, and others still struggle to balance the excessive needs of the company with their own mental health. It is in these discussions, and some of the game’s general cutscenes, where the writers get to flex their funny bone, but also pull at your heartstrings. There are some sobering and genuine comments made that reveal the way corporate structure and unrealistic profiteering can weigh on employees, causing them to become bitter, withdrawn, or disillusioned. For the most part, however, it’s more about poking fun at the oddities of businesses, and the ambitious and flawed individuals at their helms.
Impressions and Conclusions
“Chaotic” is about as apt a description as one can give for the action in Going Under. While locking onto enemies ensures your ability to strike them with your weapon, you have wind-up times, weapon durability, traps and hazards, and other enemies to consider during every moment of combat. With the size of many rooms, it can be hard to avoid your foes, especially if they possess uninterruptable attack animations or explosive projectiles. Stunning every enemy type is only reliable with an electric-themed weapon, and while the first dungeon does grant you the extremely powerful, area-of-effect electric guitar, this is not an ability you’ll be able to rely upon consistently.
In other words, you will die a lot.
And that’s not a bad thing- roguelites live and die on their run-based nature, and there are fortunately mentor goals worth striving towards each time you descend into the basement. But when there are so many unique and frustrating variables to consider- will this tiny cab run into me and ruin my no-damage quest, for example- it can feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. If the gameplay proves to frustrate, then Going Under has to heavily rely on its aesthetics, writing, and overall charm. Luckily, it does that in spades, and while some of the effects and debuffs you might receive might hurt your run, the item labels, descriptions, and impact are more than humorous enough to make up for it.
Going Under might not check all of your boxes for a roguelite experience- it sometimes feels a bit too off-the-rails for its own good. But if you want to appreciate strong aesthetic design and some of the weirdest weaponry you can get your hands on, you’ll definitely find it here. It’s not just nonsensical, it’s downright absurd in all the best ways- but it’s wrapped around a randomized format that sometimes feels a bit too imbalanced for its own good. Even so, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, whether it’s freezing enemies to the spot with an icy glare lock-on, pummeling enemies with a pair of boxing gloves, or bashing them over the head with coffee cups, body pillows, t-shirt guns, blockchainsaws, double hockey sticks, low-hanging fruits, thumbtacks, or yoga balls… well, if that sentence hasn’t sold you, what will?