Its polish makes mechanics sing in harmony, carrying you through by sheer enjoyable force alone. UNDERDOGS establishes new standards for what arena fighting games can achieve in VR
As someone who loves both fighting games and virtual reality, I had high hopes that UNDERDOGS on Quest 3 would deliver a mechanized brawling experience unlike anything I'd played before. Developed by indie studio One Hamsa, UNDERDOGS places you into a towering mech to duke it out in an underground fighting tournament. After getting hands-on with the game, I can confidently say it exceeds expectations as one of VR's most engrossing and satisfying titles to date.
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The second I grabbed the controls to maneuver my Gorilla mech into the arena, I knew UNDERDOGS had nailed its motion controls. Similar to the movement you find in Gorilla Tag, my movements felt precisely translated, letting me throw devastating punches and move great distances with ease. Dodging incoming attacks came naturally as well thanks to the one-to-one tracking. I swiftly fell into the rhythm of the gameplay, feeling truly embodied within this hulking machine.
Each fight ratchets up the challenge as I faced off against new enemy types. Early scuffles had me brawling basic robotic dogs, but later mechanized terrors sprouted armor, chainsaws that grabed my arms etc. I had to mix up my strategies, incorporating perfect dodges and parries to emerge victorious. Bosses in particular took extreme precision, requiring mastery of Rilla's moveset across intense attack and dodge phases. Every small victory felt richly earned through clever use of my growing skills.
Beyond combat, maintaining my mech proved just as engaging. Since UNDERDOGS is built like a roguelike, I took every opportunity I had trying to find new gear, mods and consumables so that my Rilla had a better chance of pummeling down the enemies. As opposed to feeling tacked on, every new piece of gear and item fit neatly together, advancing the engrossing loop of discovery, combat mastery, and survival management.
But the whole randomized nature of the game also means that you never know what you will end up with. On one run, I got really lucky and got some badass arms, a shock gauntlet and mod that increased my cockpit defense by a lot and I was just uppercutting robo-dogs up in the air and towards grinders like there was no tommorow. However, as I reached the second boss, I was left with only one arm and well, she punched me back to the shadow realm. Next run, I got practically nothing, no real meaningful upgrade apart from a claw attachment which I used to throw enemies left and right until I got to the fist boss. Again, left with only the claw arm and a ruined cockpit, I had no chance against the boss. Rinse and repeat.
The roguelike gameplay loop is proven to work and it keeps you coming back for "just another run". However, there's a big difference with how the roguelike mechanic works in UNDERDOGS when compared to other games. You see, in other roguelikes when you end a run, you still get to keep some sort of currency or other character upgrades that make your next run a little bit easier. That doesn't really happen in UNDERDOGS. Once you end a run, the next run starts from zero, your Gorilla isn't stronger and you start always with the same amount of money. I don't know if this is an oversight from the developers, but I don't really like this approach as it means that if I live or die is entirely up to the RNG gods. I really hope they reconsider this and maybe slightly alter this mechanic as it would add a lot more agency and control to the player.
Each day is separated into morning, noon, evening and night. During the first three, you are presented with two random choices that range from visiting a shop, reparing your mech, talking to sponsors, NPCs to just looking for trouble or trying to steal a piece gear. Then at night, you fight. But before you do that, you have the opportunity to customize your Rilla and choose a sponsor which in turn will reward you with some specific randomized loot if you win, but also add some sort of random modifier to the fight. You need to pay attention to these modifiers since most of the time, they are out to get you like enemies can go turbo or your arms overheat or there's a giant thumper in the arena that will shock and hurt you. All of these modifiers keep things feeling fresh run after run.
As for the presentation, UNDERDOGS oozes style. The story and character interactions are presented in this beautiful punk comic book style 2D art. Character models are simple but varied enemies foster replayability, and each arena receives unique graphical identities. Though hardware limitations show, the artstyle distracts little from pure gameplay joy. The impactful sound design enhances immersion as you hear the metallic crunch of your punches, and the music goes extremely hard in the best way possible.
Apart from the Campaign, the other available mode is Skirmish, a timed wave mode, where you can use one of your previous Gorilla builds. Unfortunately, there's no multiplayer mode yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is added soon. I just know that when they add it, it will be a heck of a good time.
At its best, UNDERDOGS presents absorbing, high-pressure skirmishes that satisfy like nothing else in VR. With an engaging progression system and creativity abundance, each session feels like uncovering more of an involving story rather than grinding checklists. Apart from that minor grip I have about the roguelike nature, its polish makes mechanics sing in harmony, carrying you through by sheer enjoyable force alone. UNDERDOGS establishes new standards for what arena fighting games can achieve in VR and I can't recommend it enough. Thanks for reading!
The game was reviewed on a Quest 3 using a review copy provided by the developer.UNDERDOGS is available now on Meta Quest and PCVR.