Unidentified Drilling Object (Nintendo Switch)

UDO: Unidentified Drilling Object describes itself as an “arcade down-scroller roguelike.” Yeah, I wasn’t sure what a down-scroller was myself. The closest comparison I can come up with is the title Downwell. This blend of genres might not be inherently my thing, but UDO managed to grow on me.

After a long initial load, you start on the surface of an alien planet. There is a mandatory tutorial, and you’ll need it as you learn some of the jumping, drilling, and certain enemy types in store for you. I don’t know if it’s supposed to convey compensation for the weight of the drill, but jumping seems a tad off. Expect to overshoot enemies or land just shy, at least early on. If there’s a story for why you’re here, it’s not evident. That’s a shame, as the locales could make for some sci-fi plot fun. Working your way from the top to the bottom, digging with your drill, and taking out enemies has to be its own reward, which ends up being the case.

My early instincts were to go for the speedier route, avoiding enemies where possible while concentrating more on falling and dodging. At least in the initial goings, the speed made it hard to tell which enemies to fall on with the drill versus those that needed a fueled drill with more strength. I wish that mechanic got introduced a bit later. But you’ll need to engage with enemies quite a bit, as abilities (which tend to be pricey) are acquired by defeated foes paying out pocket change. So, combat soon moved to the forefront, and is thankfully satisfying.

An issue I have with this, though, is particular hit detection. Your drill is a good size, but often, in practice, you must hit enemies with its tip. Frequently, I took damage while wondering why the enemy didn’t die. It’s never good when I repeatedly feel failure is just as much the game’s fault as mine. This quirk is extra annoying when enemies with exaggerated speed get introduced. Of course, some enemies (those exploding into poisonous gas clouds) are legit best avoided. Practice makes perfect.

For me, UDO wasn’t “easy to learn,” as claimed. It took me a while to come to grips with the nuances so I could advance past the first world. More successful was the “super tight and rewarding gameplay” promise. While I have issues with hit detection, fuel consumption, and certain enemies, the controls click responsively. And it is rewarding as you start buying items and advance beyond the same opening levels. Each time you fail, you’re presented with stats showing how long you lasted, pickups acquired, and more. These give the game that “certain something”…the element that every arcade-type game wants—”one more time”—but only some can lay claim to. When the mood hits, a game or two of UDO can turn into quite a few more.

Still, more polish would’ve been welcomed. Beyond some of the things I already mentioned, there are other smaller (but no less noticeable) ones. For instance, when trying to scroll amongst plentiful skins, you can’t just hold left or right, but need to tap repeatedly. These little things add up. It boils down to execution. Udo has a fair amount of pieces that could’ve been implemented better to turn a good game into a great one.

I can’t fault the presentation, though. The music is solid, fitting the arcade vibe the game aims for. The pixel art works. The backgrounds have detail, and there is even more color as you advance despite the underground setting.

UDO: Unidentified Drilling Object manages to have some success despite itself. While its numerous little issues accumulate into some unpolished real annoyances, it has that “one more time” element down, even with repetitiveness. I’m convinced there’s enough good here that a sequel should jettison the roguelike confines. Udo deserves to be a proper platforming adventure where it can drill a more unique identity.

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