Beneath the Waves begins with, naturally, as all platforming-based videogames with a retro aesthetic should, the destruction of a romantic relationship. See, the Sun and the Ocean used to live in harmony, united, all smoochy smoochy, but have now fallen out. Well, the Sun wants its CDs back, and by CDs I of course mean precious gifts. You’ve been requested to gather these idols hidden beneath the waves–hey, that’s the name of the game wink wink–and return them to a series of pedestals high in the mountains. The trouble is, the Ocean and its denizens do not like this plan. Not one bit.
As mentioned above, Beneath the Waves is a platformer. Well, two types of platformer actually. There’s the part where you are on land, jumping from ledge to ledge, escalating higher into the sky to find the pedestals upon which you will place the returned idols. Then there’s the other part, in the water, where you are swimming and diving deep and avoiding dangerous schools of fish or heat-seeking sharks. The platforming underwater is actually more challenging than above the surface, as the little dude is able to cling to walls to reach higher ledges, but swimming past obstacles while the pressure is on requires a little more finesse and patience. I guess the best comparison I can make is that the swimming has a similar feel to arcade racing games–a little loose, with momentum an issue.
Controls in Beneath the Waves are fairly simple: use the arrow keys to move around, and [X] or up jumps. I stuck with [X], in case you wanted to know. Your main goal, to progress forward, is to find the idols deep down in the water, and thankfully you don’t need to worry about an oxygen bar as the main character can evidently breathe underwater indefinitely. Y’know, like Aquaman. As you search the underwater caverns for these idols, you’ll notice an abundance of friendly aquatic life that you can swim into without taking damage. However, once you pick up the idol, everything in the ocean changes and becomes your enemy. If you take too much damage, you drop the idol and need to swim back down and pick it up once more. Once you safely make it to the surface, you can bring the idol to a pedestal and open the gate to the next area, getting a sliver of interesting, if not entirely clear story-stuff the moment skin touches water again.
Rinse and repeat this a few times, with the underwater caverns becoming more twisted and maze-like as the game goes on. The above-ground platforming sections never really become too challenging, but the final boss fight against the Ocean’s biggest defender did force me to remain on my webbed toes, as this boss chases after you harder than any shark ever did, as well as steals back the final idol to its original location. The game does a good job of building up to this moment, so that you have all the necessary skills and knowledge readily available for you to succeed, though it took me a few tries.
It can be easy to dismiss Beneath the Waves as another one of those indie platformers with retro pixel graphics clearly made quickly for a game jam. Though Gregory Avery-Weir did make this initially for Ludum Dare under the title of simply Waves, before expanding on the idea. Still, the story is somewhat mystical, as well as something I’ve continued to think about in the days since playing it, and the swimming–when the sea creatures are not attacking you–is dreamy and fun and reminds me of the only reason I ever played Ecco the Dolphin, which was to dive deep and rocket-ship up out of the water in an epic, Sea World-worthy reveal. I’d say give this one a play if you’re looking for a different way to platform, under the sea.