I try to avoid really dense games when I’m at a games expo, mainly because it’s hard to get invested in a beautiful world when there’s a queue behind you, but I couldn’t resist a taste of Below from Capybara Games.
With a killer art-style, music by Jim Guthrie, and gameplay that’s deeper than you’d think, Below is a 2D RPG Roguelike that feels like the next big indie-treat. It’s sharp, smart, and hard, and even with the reflection of an impatient man behind me at the Xbox booth, I still couldn’t keep my eyes off it.
The world is dark and almost gritty, with a similar aesthetic to Capybara’s other classic iOS game Sword And Sworcery. It also has this really effective “tilt-shift photography” which gives your tiny on-screen presence a unique beauty.
The actual game part of Below is incredibly tight, with combat that feels responsive, and really rewarding thanks to the Xbox One controllers precise feedback. Each swipe of your characters sword feels like it’s making an impact, while a flurry of bats might appear at any moment to keep you on your toes. I could imagine chills spreading down my back when playing this game in the dark with headphones on. It’s moody in that way.
Below operates with a traditional 2D RPG style. You walk around a 2D world and kill things for loot drops. Obviously there’s a lot more to it, but I only had a little bit of time with the game. You have an inventory, a place to be, and some health. There’s also a lot of depth in terms of pure survival. You have limited health, it looked like the character was bleeding out, and as far as I could tell no tutorial to tell you what to do. It’s all about figuring out what to do next, and finding ways to keep working further and further….ahem….below the surface.
If anything, the most disheartening thing I could see with Below is its modern Roguelike style, with perma-death gameplay. While this generally works well on a Twitch stream, it’s not exactly my idea of fun anymore, and I’m starting to feel Roguelike fatigue. I’m also kinda sick of people saying that perma-death can teach you anything. If anything it just lets you know that the game itself is lacking in content, which might not apply to Below.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Below tries to subvert the Roguelike mechanic to keep players invested. Perhaps inventory will carry over between sessions, or maybe there’ll be other incentives to keep people engaged. Otherwise, it could be far too frustrating for myself to finish, adding it to the pile of games I’ll just never complete. Spelunky and even Rogue Legacy are still stuck in that pile to this day.
Still, the mysterious visuals and the beautiful music are enough to keep me intrigued, although I do fear for the longevity of a perma-death toting RPG. With that said though, I went into the game, and left it, blind so perhaps I’m missing something.
Below is still slated to arrive on Xbox One before the end of the year, although it may otherwise fall into 2016 at this stage. A PC version will follow, although there’s apparently going to be some delay in that release, and don’t even get started on a PS4 version.