UNDERDOGS is a Smashing and Innovative Approach to VR Mechs

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UNDERDOGS is an upcoming VR mech brawler that takes the veteran indie VR studio behind Racket: Nx in an ambitious new direction.

It was clear all the way back in 2018 with the release of Racket: Nx that developer One Hamsa has a certain sense of game-feel and attention-to-detail that’s rare to find in most VR games. The studio managed to take a broad idea like ‘racquetball in VR’ and turn it into something really unique and totally fitting for the medium.

Now, five years later, the studio’s next project is a total pivot away from the slick VR sport it had created, but you can still feel the developer’s talent for taking a broad idea and turning it into something uniquely fit for VR.

Underdogs isn’t due out until early next year, but I got my hands on an early build of the game and found a very firm foundation with unique mechanics and gameplay that I can only describe as a ‘mech brawler’.

Underdogs has a strong identity—it is not the ‘sit in the cockpit and press a bunch of buttons’ kind of mech game—’let’s smash shit’ is the vibe, and the studio does a great job of leaning into it with the game’s aesthetic.

In Underdogs you pilot a short and agile mech that’s driven with intuitive arm-based locomotion. You essentially pull yourself around the arena with your mech’s arms and use the arms to swing and punch enemies in front of you. You can also use your arms to fling yourself into enemies like a sumo wrestler bouncing an opponent out of the ring. It’s a ton of fun to slam into enemies thanks to physics rag-dolling and some good visual and sound effects to accompany it.

With a range of different arm attachments—some that are smashy, some that are stabby, and some with utility (like a grappling hook)—it looks like Underdogs could create a fun playground for different ‘builds’ as players experiment with which attachments work best against different enemies.

Oh and did I mention you can not only swing at enemies but you can also pick them up and smash them together or simply throw them to the other side of the arena? This isn’t precision work… it’s demolition—and it feels really fun.

Speaking of demolition; the arena I was fighting in had a huge piston in the middle that would slam down every few seconds. And you can bet it was a joy every time I threw an enemy under it just in time to get crushed. The developers really know how to make things like this feel satisfying with a combination of effects and sound.

Even in the short slice of the game I played, it was apparent that the studio understands the need for enemy variety. I saw at least three enemy types, one of which had variants that meaningfully changed how I approached them (like a temporary shield that needs to be dodged until it becomes vulnerable). There was also a mini-boss fight with a charging robot rhino that was fun to dodge to and then swing back in to hack and smash its vulnerable points. I’m hoping this is only a taste of the enemy and boss variety in the full game.

The action is a little chaotic at times, but it feels like with practice there will be an opportunity for players to perfect their movement and attacks. And with any luck, swapping out parts on your mech will lead to different playstyles entirely.

Behind the action, Underdogs is doing some solid world-building by casting the player as an… underdog… that’s battling in underground arenas as an avenue to move up in the world. As a cyber-steam punk world, the setting is something of a known quantity, but so far the game’s presentation has given it a unique feel.

It was an impressive spectacle to look up from the action in the arena to see a horde of people cheering you on, silhouetted against a massive cityscape that makes apparent just how far you’ll have to climb (literally and figuratively) if you want to make it anywhere in this world.

What I played of Underdogs thus far left me really intrigued and excited for the full game. It isn’t clear to me, however, exactly what form the full game will take. Will it simply be a mindless wave-brawler that takes place in the same handful of arenas? Or will the world and story be a vehicle for a more interesting linear narrative and gameplay progression? We’ll have to wait until early next year when Underdogs launches on Quest and PC VR to find out if it sticks the landing.

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