Below The Ocean

PC, Mac, Linux

I’m so pleased that in a world of ultra-hardcore super-tough platformers, people are still making fantastic little ideas like Below The Ocean. While by no means super-easy, this is a lovely under-the-sea platform game that’s focused on introducing handfuls of new ideas, rather than becoming too difficult to enjoy.

Made of four missions, this is about taking a wee pixel diver into strange flooded ruins, looking for treasure. To do this, you need to attach his lengthy breathing tube to the O2 bottles found across the many rooms of each dive, and then run, jump, glide and swing from this tether to reach each room’s exit.

Each of the four missions plays slightly differently, adding in new elements or approaches, which makes the hour or two the game lasts feel constantly fresh. The opening level has its focus on the basic act of stringing together those O2 canisters, and then using the environment and that tether to your advantage – there are no enemies here at all. Another has you using bubbles to float and launch, combining this with the tether to create interesting challenges. Later there are yellow bubbles that allow you to eliminate enemies, or propel yourself rapidly in directions, or indeed combinations of the two.

I love that enemies are such a low priority here. The blue fish, crabs, etc, are there as moving obstacles, rather than hostiles. They don’t pursue you, but will restart you at the last big O2 tank if you collide with them. And death has no further penalty, beyond the game’s noting how many times you’ve died during the mission. That’s something that feels like it matters when it reaches “5”, and then really stops feeling like it means anything once it’s at “27”.

Levels also contain diamonds, objectional objectives that require trickier manoeuvres to reach, with some concealed in hidden rooms. They certainly provide a motivation to replay once you’ve finished the four chapters, while those who care about such things can try to reduce the deaths count too. Oh, and for those who find a game’s clock timing how long you’re taking too much pressure, or simply an irritation because it isn’t compatible with how you approach such games, it can be switched off in the options. Love that.

It’s very nicely put together, and the simple pixel graphics and four-colour palette belie some pretty clever physics. The tether operates according to proper underwater floaty properties, meaning you can wrap it around obstacles to complete some challenges, or allow it to swing you upward when taut (I’m not quite sure how realistic is the latter). Plus there’s just the right floatiness on your character as you jump and dive, meaning I pretty quickly got to grips with the controls, letting me feel like a right pro has I swooped through trickier sections.

According to my runtime, it took me an hour-and-a-half to finish, but then I’m also very easily distr…

A bee!

This is very charming, has a whole bundle of lovely little ideas that arrive thick and fast, and the super-simple NES-like presentation is very fitting. For under a fiver, it’s short, but it’s a very good time.

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