I saw it first on Destructoid. Then Twitter. Then GameFAQs. It wasn’t until I searched for information on the game in Japanese and saw it again that I finally broke down and knew I had to bring this up: as of this writing, Undertale has a 97 on Metacritic, making it the highest rated PC game on the site. It’s a little surprising but also easy to explain.
It it wasn’t obvious from my review, I love Undertale, and I’m not a backer. It’s not perfect, but those imperfections are very easy to ignore very quickly. The game’s free demo makes it accessible, and pitching it as this generation’s Earthbound meets Chrono Trigger minus needing to kill anything has made it really easy for me to infect people on my friends lists. My own mother’s expressed interest in trying it out, and she mostly has only played puzzle games, Mario Kart, and exercise games.
However, there are currently only 14 scores from critics propping up Undertale on Metacritc. That gives it a huge advantage, and one that will be difficult to fight. It’s why I called the game a potential cult hit. The thing is, it’s a non-retail indie PC game. Most mainstream gamers not only will most likely never hear of it, and the word “indie” alone will make them pass up reading about the game. It’s also why most non-gaming mainstream news won’t touch it, further ensuring there will be fewer scores offered to balance out the relatively high score.
Bias aside though, there’s probably good reason for this. The user scores are very, very high. There are negative scores, but they obviously completely miss the point of the game even when they’re written in reasonably intelligible English. Indie games aren’t all about graphics or powerful engines. Having an imagination and life experience the game is capable of tapping into doesn’t make anyone a hipster, it makes them a mature human being. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to find a negative review for the game on Steam.
The most honest negative against this game brought up are that the true ending is relatively easy to get if you’re a gamer that immediately “gets” the game, which, without going into spoilers, almost assures you that you won’t be going back to play again. However, it doesn’t mean you won’t watch other people play the game for different outcomes, which is something very few other games have gotten me to do.
After that comes personal taste. Some people just might not like it. I’ve spoken to one of those mythical people, and while they enjoyed the music, their problem was that they didn’t immediately get the game. They thought there was a right way to play and a wrong way. To me, that’s mainstream thinking, which isn’t bad, but is the reason why certain companies can just add more levels and keep milking people for money. If you don’t want to think about what you’re doing when you’re playing, that’s fine, but that’s when games become little more than passive entertainment akin to TV. I don’t think that’s something most self identified gamers want. That’s what normal folks killing time with games do. There’s a big difference.
The graphics complaints are more understandable but, well, Minecraft has shown that’s not a problem if your game does something unique and enjoyable. I think mainstream gamers who are looking for something new and can see past graphics will be pleasantly surprised. Those of us playing indie games obviously are looking past the skin and into the soul of a game, and Undertale‘s soul has really spoken to many of us.