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Unicum are a software company whose game is online slots. You may assume that a company named Unicum isn’t based in an English-speaking country and you’d be right. Unicum is a Russian operation, which explains how their moniker can be filed under ‘lost in translation’.
Still, it’s not the name that makes for a great software company: it’s the games, and Unicum have got plenty up their sleeves. More than quantity, it’s the character of their games that’s truly something special. If you thought you’d seen it all in the realm of online slots, think again. Unicum are so unique. So whacky. So Soviet.
How Unicum Came to Be
Headquartered in Moscow, Unicum was founded in 1991. In software terms, that’s an era. The company has only been in the slots game industry for the past 11 years admittedly, but its programmers have practical experience that goes back way beyond that. After toiling away for its first few years of life, the company hit a run of form once it made the decision to focus on the burgeoning iGaming industry. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Unicum may be laden with an unfortunate name, but there’s nothing unfortunate about their slots. In fact, they proudly proclaim their games to offer a high payout rate coupled with excellent gameplay. Unicum’s slots, configured primarily in an SIA format, are designed to work in-browser: forget about having to download casino software before you can catch a slice of the action. This is a boon to both players and casino operators, as anything that can speed up gameplay and reduce set-up times has got to be welcome.
As is the case with many devs, Unicum’s slots have a demo mode that allows players to get a feel for the game before investing serious riches – or rubles, as the case may be.
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Unicum have earned high praise for their slots, which are characterised by a simple interface which can be mastered in seconds. The sound is top-notch and the graphics are competent, but that’s not the greatest thing about Unicum’s oeuvre. No, the greatest thing about Unicum – the reason why native players as well as those from other territories should be testing their wares – is because their games are pure crazy. Good crazy, but cray cray nonetheless.
In fairness, perhaps it’s more a case of the themes – like Unicum’s name – getting lost in translation. To Russian players, Unicum’s titles probably make perfect sense. To Western gamers dipping a toe into the world of Moscow slots for the first time, the experience can be a little disorienting and yet surprisingly enjoyable.
Unicum design their slots, first and foremost, for native players: Russian speakers. This is commendable, but it does leave non-Russians looking on perplexed. Thankfully, it doesn’t require an Honours degree in cyrillic languages to play Russian-language slots: like all slots you just press a button and keep going till you win or lose something of substance.
More than anything, Unicum are obsessed with recreating the Soviet era. Some may call it the golden age of Mother Russia; others may call it a time of crushing inflation, austerity and corruption. Whatever the case, there’s no disputing that communist Russia is a breeding ground for some truly remarkable characters and storylines.
Take Gold of Party for example. If the name of the slot isn’t immediately apparent from looking at it, that’s because, like most of Unicum’s machines, it’s rendered in the cyrillic language. Look past the unfamiliar lettering and you’ll be rewarded with a game that’s retro in a manner that no X’s and O’s or fruity reels video slot can match. We’re talking old-skool Soviet symbols, moody sound effects inspired by Soviet films and all the atmospherics of an 80s communist party hoedown. All that’s missing is a pair of flat-capped Adidas-clad gentlemen squatting on their haunches and drinking vodka out the bottle.
To the uninitiated, the controls for Gold of Party elicit images of the control room of a nuclear power station – Chernobyl, perhaps? Push the right buttons and your cup will runneth over. Screw it up, and it’ll be total meltdown.
The game symbols include images that are synonymous with Cold War might: Lenin, Ladas, industry and a bonus feature that cuts to a mid-20th century Russian desk where an envelope opens and banknotes spill out. It needs reiterating: Unicum’s slots are like nothing you’ve ever played before.
Forget Pravda – Here’s Bratva
The pièce de résistance, the jewel in Unicum’s wonky crown, is surely Bratva. The game, as the Muscovite software company bluntly put it, ‘takes players to old Russian markets with criminals and the police’. In the current year, there ain’t no one creating games like Unicum and the Russian developer deserves credit for refusing to go with the flow, instead doggedly sticking to the country and culture it knows best.
While many slots developers provide playable demos of their games, Unicum have gone to the bother of uploading gameplay footage to YouTube. In practice, this is far more helpful than providing a playable demo, which can take precious time and bandwidth to load; far simpler to skim through a brief YouTube clip to glean an insight into the game’s salient features. It’s a sound strategy and one that more companies would do well to emulate.
With playing symbols that include tough looking Russian mobsters, even tougher looking cops, retro Nokia phones and gaudy bling, Bratva lives up to its billing. The best bit is the feature which comprises a shell game: watch as the cups are rearranged rapidly and try to pinpoint which of the four is concealing the metal ball. Bullets, handcuffs, knives, a roulette board and a Mercedes Benz all surface in the game. It’s amazing what you can find down at the Russian market.
Every Slot Has a Story to Tell
Unicum haven’t produced a vast amount of slots but that’s not their game. As the Moscow devs put it, their slots are ‘so unique in their storylines and characteristics that you will certainly recognize them from all other games’. With storylines this engrossing, it seems churlish to pick faults with the rest of the package.
For operators interested in introducing their customers to the wild world of Unicum, the firm’s software and games can be acquired via 2winpower.com. Casino operators are invited to request a free version of Unicum’s slots, which they can trial for 10 days before deciding whether to commit. If you’re tiring of playing slots whose sole differentiating feature is the colour of the reels, you need to to sample Unicum.
From the game symbols to the sound effects and from the in-game features to design of the playing icons, every last element of Unicum’s slots oozes character.
The graphics exude a certain shabby charm that would ordinarily warrant criticism but in this context - in the context of a game modelled on a 1980s gangster’s market, or a Communist Russian history lesson - the basic design works perfectly.
It seems unlikely that Unicum will gain a foothold beyond the Russian market, but with the Russian-speaking diaspora spanning the globe, from America to China, there’s scope for online casinos to incorporate a couple of Unicum games to lure in Russian-speaking players. It would be nice to see some more contemporary designs from Unicum, if nothing else to see what else they’re capable of. When it comes to retro Russian kitsch with a side order of WTF however, these guys have got the market cornered.