As we enter the second month of the year, New Year’s resolutions tend to fall by the wayside. One of the most prominent ones, of course, is workouts. But instead of trying to force yourself to go to a gym you don’t really like or trying to create an at-home workout regimen with something like Supernatural, why not play a game like Underdogs?
In his weekly column, Android Central Senior Content Producer Nick Sutrich delves into all things VR, from new hardware to new games, upcoming technologies, and so much more.
By description alone, the game doesn’t feel overly special. It’s a mech brawler bundled in a narrative-heavy roguelike package. In other words, you’ll be trekking across town, buying and trading with NPCs, upgrading and repairing your mech, and fighting enemies in arenas until your mech is destroyed. Then, you’ll do it all over again with better power-ups and harder enemies than last time.
We’ve seen several excellent roguelikes over the past year, with games like Ghost Signal and The Light Brigade, but Underdogs sets itself apart with its visceral, highly physical combat system. Before I knew it, my shoulders were aching, my forehead was sweating, and my blood was pumping in a way that few non-fitness-focused games can do. It’s incredible, and it makes it one of the best Meta Quest games to secretly work out with.
It’s entirely possible the developers of Underdogs, One Hamsa, never thought about turning this into a “workout” game. But I think that’s part of the charm of the title; you’re secretly getting a good workout in even though you never set off to do such a thing. It’s the best of both worlds, in effect, as you’re doing something good for your body while simultaneously enjoying an excellent video game.
Underdogs, at its core, is a first-person brawler game that feels completely different from other similar brawlers because of its mech-focused core mechanic. As a mech pilot, you’re not walking around the room punching enemies or hacking at them with weapons. Instead, you’re controlling the mech from the cockpit with direct actions, similar to the Pacific Rim movies.
What’s impressive is that One Hamsa’s use of physics-based combat means your mech still feels immediately responsive even though there’s an artificial input delay designed to replicate what piloting an actual mech might feel like.
Perhaps more interesting than that is how you move around each arena while piloting your mech. There’s no virtual movement via the joystick or teleporting from area to area. Instead, you’ll use the grip buttons on each Quest controller to physically pull your “gorilla mech” around.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to reach down and grab the ground. Pressing the grip buttons completes that movement cycle for you, making moving around feel strangely natural.
If you’ve played Gorilla Tag, you’ll have a general idea of what this feels like, but it’s not a carbon copy of that game. Instead, Underdogs takes the concept of Gorilla Tag’s movements and builds on them, making them both more comfortable and easier to use. I’ve been frustrated by Gorilla Tag’s controls more than once but have never felt frustrated by movement in Underdogs.
As you might expect from a game where you’re flinging yourself around an arena in a multi-ton mech, using the weight of your mech will come into play in combat. Gearing up to headbutt opponents will often send them sprawling across an arena or stun them, opening up weak points that can then be punched and smashed.
As you progress through the game, the arrangement of each arena will become a weapon in and of itself, adding traps and enemies that can be wielded as weapons.
As you’d probably expect from a roguelike, you’ll be earning power-ups and upgrades as you progress through each run. Underdogs takes place in a gritty city that’s the last bastion for humans in a world where AI has taken over, leaving humans to fend for themselves and “return to monke,” as a certain other VR game might say.
A unique semi-overworld map gives you choices at nearly every turn throughout the campaign, giving you potential options to talk to NPCs, make trade deals, look for trouble in back alleys, or just go all-out in a brawl.
Aside from combat, two other components of Underdogs help it stand out among the pack of roguelikes on the Quest: art direction, and time management.
Few VR games sport as cohesive an art direction as Underdogs. It’s incredibly uniquely stylized in a way that’s immediately identifiable in screenshots, and it oozes personality and character from every pixel.
Battles are pumped up with what the developers call “a ridiculous UK grime soundtrack,” which is not quite like anything I’ve heard in another VR game. It’s gritty and powerful, and it makes you want to punch things over and over again. That’s perfect for the “workout” vibe I was describing earlier.
In addition to that, the game is incredibly respectful of your time. Too many roguelikes force you to play until you die with few or no breaks in between.
Underdogs is designed with a separated “level” structure that allows you to play even just one brawl, then put it down for a day and come back like you never left. When you start the game, you can decide to continue your existing run or start a whole new one if things weren’t going so well last time.
I can’t say how grateful I am for games that have this sort of structure, as there are few things more irritating in gaming than losing your progress because you didn’t have enough time to finish a segment.
This is particularly excellent if you’re someone who regularly works out and might find that a mech boxing game feels less than comfortable when you’ve been working on your arms all week.
The game is available on both Meta Quest and SteamVR platforms, making it easy to play on your VR platform of choice. This is one you absolutely should not sleep on, and I’m willing to bet you’ll lose at least a few hours of sleep thinking about your next big battle.