December 10, 2012 6:30 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the Winter Bundle available now on IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
The Working Parts have created a game that makes me want to simultaneously congratulate them and run screaming. Perhaps it's because I am of the age where the Sonic the Hedgehog drowning music still haunts and terrorizes me to this day, but there's something about drowning in video games that puts me into a very uncomfortable place. Which brings us to They Breathe, a game almost entirely built around such uncomfortable places that also serves as a fantastic example of how graphics and gameplay can set a very particular kind of mood.
To say more would be spoilers, so I must be deliberately vague. You are a sad looking frog, who dives into the water and attempts to reach the bottom before running out of air. There are air bubbles sprouting from the depths to help you along, but there are also creatures in the water that are somewhat less helpful towards your goal. Each screen revolves around figuring out how to elude the creatures; the game is rather good at keeping your goals vague, meaning you get to figure things out for yourself through experimentation and frantically trying not to drown.
The gameplay is rather simple, but in conjunction with the graphics it creates a sense of horror that is rarely matched by other games. There are no jump scares or invincible monsters chasing you, but just a bleak, slow burning sense of dread as you start to realize what exactly is happening in the depths. Where are those air bubbles coming from? What are these creatures? Each question is met by an answer that makes everything feel that much worse. Quite frankly, it's amazing to see such a story told through simply art and gameplay alone, making They Breathe another impressive example of game design in a bundle that is full of them.
The game is very short, so there is little need to backlog this one to play some day as you can probably finish it in under an hour. But They Breathe is a totally worthwhile, if disturbing experience that certainly lives up to the creepy hype I've been building for the last two paragraphs. It's nice to see what would be otherwise forgettable mechanics take on a whole new meaning when closely tied to the great, minimalist storytelling. My hat is off to The Working Parts for accomplishing this so well, but if you'll excuse me I need to go cry in the shower.
[Hamlet, Greed Corp, Bit.Trip Runner, Leave Home, They Breathe, and Conquest of Elysium 3 are available in the Winter Bundle now at Indie Royale.]