Tag Archives: underwater

You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

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You have 10 seconds to survive Sonic Blast’s underwater levels

I played some Sonic Blast the other day, and I almost beat it. I’m not going to tell you why I had the sudden urge to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game, nor why I decided to pick that one of all my options. The game originally appeared on the Sega Game Gear way back in 1996, but also later managed to eek its way on to the Sega Master System…but only in Brazil. Huh. Nowadays, it can be found on various other platforms through collections, even as recent as a digital download on the Nintendo 3DS. My version is found deep inside the 2004 release Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PlayStation 2, which I got almost three years ago during a PS2 shopping spree.

Sonic Blast clearly wanted to–pun intended–ape the same style of pre-rendered graphics from Super Nintendo’s big 1994 release Donkey Kong Country. For sure, those Rare titles had a look, even if they haven’t aged well. However, to ensure that details are visible, both sprites for Sonic and Knuckles are bigger than their counterparts in earlier titles, which results in a “zoomed in” look. This means you get to see less of the level on the screen and will often not know what is coming up, whether it be a bunch of rings, an enemy, or a death pit of spikes. I also had this problem with Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge and Metroid II: Return of Samus, both of which put all their effort into ensuring you see the game’s hero up close and personal at the sacrifice of gameplay.

And, well…it’s a Sonic the Hedgehog game. You generally move left to right across the screen, jumping, collecting rings, avoiding enemies, and searching for the spinning signpost that signals the level is over. Usually, to get there, it’s a complicated puzzle path. There’s not much new here overall, though you can also play as Knuckles from the get-go, which I did not do. Sonic Blast is relatively short, about five zones long, with each zone made up of a couple levels and a boss fight against Doctor Eggman that tasks you with jumping on his spaceship’s windshield several times to crack it open.

I got all the way up to the Blue Marine Zone, which is the fourth zone. Alas, it’s mostly underwater, with bits of ancient ruins, like crumbled columns, in the background to begin questioning yourself on the true nature of this beast and whether it all takes place on Earth. Also, there’s a bunch of pipes that shoot you this way and that way and all around with fervor and strong water currents to deal with. Here’s the kicker: you’ll drown if you stay in water for too long. If you need air, you can either get out of the water, find an air bubble, or travel along one of the previously mentioned suction tubes.

Drowning in Sonic the Hedgehog games is not whacking the originality ball into space. It’s been there since the beginning, with a wonderfully haunting ditty to remind you that death comes at your fast and there’s no time to do anything about it and you’ll never get to see your loved ones again and the end is oh-so near. That’s whatever, but my main beef with the mechanic specific to Sonic Blast is that…you have no indication of how much air you have left. If you linger too long under the water, you’ll eventually get a 10-second timer on top of the screen silently counting down to the Blue Blur’s demise. That classic piece of music I linked to above does not play. Considering the maze-like design of this zone and limited options for filling up Sonic’s lungs, I was frustrated and lost all of my lives and continue credits in this one section, having had zero deaths up to this point as the difficulty wasn’t all that challenging.

Wait. Okay, no–I had to look up a video walkthrough to confirm I wasn’t missing something, that this was user error, and it sort of was. See, if you stand Sonic over an area where tiny air bubbles are coming out of the ground–because of science, duh–it depletes your number of rings. I guess that means you are briefly buying more oxygen, but it’s not very clear as there’s no meter or picture or even animation from the Legendary Blue Hedgehog to indicate anything is happening; a sound effect would have gone a long way. But just like how Sonic’s air supply was depleted, so was my interest in playing further, seeing as this dropped me unceremoniously back to the title screen.

In the end, my forty or so minutes with Sonic Blast was anything but that. What? You had to know a joke like that was coming. Anyways, maybe one day I’ll feel inspired to go back and finish off its final acts, knowing what I know now about air bubbles and rings. Or maybe I’ll try another Sonic the Hedgehog title in my PS2 collection, considering it has something like 20 games in it, albeit not all star the Blue One and some must first be unlocked. Or perhaps I’ll never touch anything Sonic the Hedgehog-related ever again. All are likely options.

Dive deeper, swim faster in Beneath the Waves

gd-post-impression-beneath-the-waves-capture

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.

St. Chicken is actually about surviving the perils of the ocean

st chicken Screen_Shot

I don’t think I can actually tell you where my copy of St. Chicken came from–probably a bundle from yesteryear–but I never imagined it was a game about a magical guppy leading its offspring to ancient relics while keeping them healthy and nourished and out of harm’s way. The game’s executable file has sat untouched in my laptop’s “videogames” folder, but I’m trying to make a dent and open up some hard-drive space.

Truthfully, I expected a cutesy, colorful platformer starring a cartoonish chicken, like a throwback to the early Sony/Sega mascot days, on some sort of religious mission to save his or her brethren from factory farm management or an evil tractor while gathering enough eggs to unlock power-ups. Nope.

St. Chicken is a quirky puzzle-lite maze explorer where you play as a lost pet guppy with special healing powers. Basically, you swim around as the titular St. Chicken, collecting white pellets that ding as you touch them, which I imagine are food. As the guppy eats each pellet, it grows larger, and after a set amount, spawns a tiny offspring, called fry, as well as shrinking back down in size. Your fry need to remain close to St. Chicken to stay healthy and alive, and by pressing the space bar you can summon the offspring over all at once. Kind of like the “all units” command from whatever RTS franchise floats your boat.

Your goal is to get all your fry safely to the end of the level where some glowing bit of treasure or relic awaits, which is not as easy as it sounds. Like in Pikmin, your babies are pretty vulnerable, and if an eel or sting ray makes contact with them, they will perish, with no way to get them back. You also have to stay on top of the fact that St. Chicken’s fry are always close because if they linger too long away from their parent, they will perish from general weakness. I ran into a few cases where one little fry got caught behind a wall and didn’t follow the others along the main path, perishing after a few seconds by itself.

From what I can gather, there’s a total of six levels to get through in St. Chicken, each gated by a specific number of rescued fry. Alas, I couldn’t get past the fifth level, as I found it beyond frustrating to lose all of St. Chicken’s offspring right near the end. Granted, it was my fault for not paying close attention, but the thought of going back and redoing the entire level over again–it’s fairly lengthy and tedious by nature due to having to move slowly and meticulously since many paths are blocked off at first–did not excite me. And so I’ll walk away from 2012’s St. Chicken with 64 fry happy and safe from underwater predators, but no more than that.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #64 – Hero in the Ocean

2013 games completed hero in the ocean 11444

Deep and untroubled
The ocean holds all–men, stars
Be submersible

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.