Going Under (2020)
Developer: Aggro Crab
Phew, I finally I'm finally back on schedule after a busy stretch of a month. During my vacation I got to start Going Under, but it's been one that's taken me some time since then to beat. This game was on my backlog for a long time before purchasing because of big reason - I'm still very new to rougelike/rougelite games, and I was a little intimidated by then. Going Under is a colorful rougelite where the dungeons are failed start-ups that you that Jackie, an unpaid intern, is assigned to take down in order to gain their relics. Going Under is a witty and timely parody of tech and start-up culture as well as a challenging dungeon crawler where you use whatever is in your path to defeat company monsters.
You play as Jackie, a newly-hired (unpaid) intern at start-up firm Fizzle. When you learn what Fizzle does, it definitely falls under the "who asked for this?" category of weird apps and start-ups. Their product is a line of flavored sodas that claim they can "replace" full meals. Jackie is hoping that this unpaid internship will at least help her gain experience in marketing - what she was hired on to do. Instead, her boss Marv asks a completely different job of her: traveling to the failed businesses beneath their office and killing monsters. He sends you to retrieve an "artifact" from the boss of each of these companies. He claims these artifacts will help Fizzle grow successful, which, it might... at a price. Jackie is scared and unprepared for the assignment, but regardless she pushes on, taking down gig-economy goblins, dating app devils, and cryptocurrency skeletons. Although what Jackie is asked to do is completely ridiculous (and murderous??), Marv constantly manipulates her and threatens to remove her from this opportunity to advance her career. In your time at Fizzle, you get to know your other co-workers who send you on sidequests in the dungeon, in exchange for advice and their help by lending you their abilities down in the dungeons. You can use keyboards, staplers, cactus plants, and whatever else you can find to beat down enemies. All of these items break fairly quickly, so you're always having to improvise on the fly.
The art style of Going Under, by no accident, is very remiscent of modern corporate "minimalist" design. Solid saturated colors, simple shapes, and minimal details are more and more common especially logos of tech firms. When I was looking online for a way to describe this, I actually found Going Under specifically mentioned under gallery examples of an aesthetic called Corporate Memphis. Despite the game being full of fighting and sometimes serious topics, this over-satured and bubbly design gives the game a sense of humor and charm. This is perhaps in the same way that tech companies try to cover up their insidious practices and violations by using a friendly, colorful design (too dark?). The character portraits are a little different, though, with a more hand-drawn look to them that gives the characters personality. The music is equally fun and modern, ranging from elevator muzak to hip-hop to hype electronic sounds.
As I mentioned, I was little iffy about trying to take on a rougelite game. The only similar game I've played Moonlighter and I did struggle a little bit with those dungeons. I've skipped over popular games like Hades because I thought they were too difficult for me, as well as too repetitive for me. However, despite struggling a bit in the beginning, I got really hooked on the dungeon-crawling. The first dungeon took me many tries to beat because I hadn't really figured out the best way to fight, use skills, and collect items. I was dying from simple mistakes like accidentally hitting bomb items, setting myself on fire, and not using apps at the right time. I feel like it taught me pretty well, though, because by the time I got to the second dungeon it only took me 2 tries to beat it. I thought I was just perfectly matched on the difficulty until I beat the tough boss of the 3rd dungeon and discovered the next part of the game gets quite a bit harder. At this point, I was stuck since I felt I had grown as much as I could and I didn't know if I wanted to spend hours slowly improving to overcome this difficulty hike. That's when I finally made use of the very user-friendly, very customizable accessibility option that Going Under provides. You can make small adjustments like giving yourself more hearts or even just keeping your weapons from breaking. Certain small things could be improved about the gameplay - for example, automatically switching to your next weapon when the one you're using breaks. Fighting with your fists is pretty weak and you barely ever need to do it, so it's kind of silly that I end up using just punching enemies for a few seconds right after my weapon breaks. Also, I learned to NEVER be holding an explosive weapon while idling in place through a pretty brutal experience shown below. I wish there had been some sort of warning for this.
More often than not, when media tries to include current lingo and meme humor in its story, it flops and ends up sounding belittling and cringey. In contrast to that, Going Under is so perfectly on-point and convincingly relevant to millenial-type humor. Its jokes are not only in the dialogue, but in the environmental storytelling. Corporate motivational rise-and-grind posters ("sleep when you're dead") posters line the walls of the dungeons of dead companies, which feel so painfully accurate. The characters both hate their jobs but will at the same time overwork themselves for the sake of the company. A computer programmer tells you about how you can't trust technology and coding is garbage. They feel like real people because they're all stuck in this same system, pushing back in small ways that they can. My only small critique about the way the story plays out is that in its (accurate) villainization of the system plagues all of the employees at Fizzle, it gave too much redemption to the characters who constantly upheld the system in order to keep themselves at the top. I think this was all in order to make the final part of the story more surprising and perhaps more upbeat, though. I just found it hard to forgive a certain character just because things turned around when the situation got dicey.
This game has its finger on the pulse of millennial culture. It mocks the relentless "avocado toast" critiques from older generations while simultaneously making fun of our cheugy lingo.
Going Under is challenging, funny, and incredibly clever. It takes concepts of modern culture and makes them a part of the world in a way that actually works for a videogame. This would probably be the first rougelite I'd recommend for someone new to genre, not only because of its excellent accessibility menu but because its dungeons are such a silly and fun twist on something everyone can probably understand. Going Under warns us that technology alone is not good or bad but it can be harmful; it reminds us to stay human and put people first.
Going Under is available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 16 hrs