Capybara Games is a relatively small developer that hasn’t done too many projects. Their most known is probably Super Time Force, but the game that had me interested in the studio before that was actually a mobile game. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP which Capybara teamed up on with Superbrothers was a fantastic adventure game. It wasn’t action packed or fast paced, it sported a pixel art style but was still very detailed, but what hooked me was the amazing music by Jim Guthrie. The game recommended you to play it with headphones and that is absolutely how you should experience that game.
Suffice to say, I was pretty excited to see the announcement of Below. It has a minimalist but detailed look, an adventure into a dark and mysterious alien looking structure and the sound design seemed to be on point. However, Below was announced at Microsoft’s E3 event in 2013! It’s been 5 years since its announcement and while a procedurally generated roguelike game seemed awesome at the time, we have witnessed a massive influx of these type of games within that 5 years. With games like Necropolis, Flinthook, Dead Cells, The Binding of Isaac and many more, there isn’t exactly a shortage of these type of games. In fact, one can even argue there’s even an excess of roguelikes nowadays!
Not only has there been a slight saturation in the genre, but Below had an indefinite delay in 2016, followed by pretty much no news until GDC 2018, when it reemerged with creative director Kris Piotrowski saying they’re shooting for a release sometime this year. That’s wonderful news and I have a feeling we will get a firm date at E3 2018, but is it too late? Has the long wait and a myriad of other roguelikes under our belt soiled the hype that Below once had? Let’s first talk about what we know about Below and then how I think they can try and bring it back to the spotlight and get people hyped again.
What’s Below all about?
Actually, there aren’t a ton of details on Below’s story or its mystery island on purpose. One of the ideas I liked the most is that you’re dropped into this world and you must figure out what to do and where to go on your own. There isn’t a quest marker to follow and you’re purposefully left in the dark in details until you unravel them as you progress.
But what we do know are the basics of the gameplay mechanics we will be using and it’s these mechanics, or tweaks on these mechanics, that I think will see Below apart from the others in the genre.
Survival elements also come into play in Below. You’ll need to manage your hunger meter and inventory while exploring and uncovering the mystery surrounding you. You’ll catch fish to eat, set up camp to rest, you’ll also be crafting items and weapons as you move along collecting items to help on your journey. You’ve seen this before, I know.
Much like most rogue-like games, each death is permanent which will toss you right back at the beginning of the island left with only a few things that carry over. Making each attempt at battling the depths a little easier each time. It wouldn’t be a rogue-like without the procedural generation, so each time you venture back into the mysterious cave you’ll need to always be cautious due to everything changing, be it the level design or item placement.
The camera perspective is also different than what most roguelikes offer as well. It is extremely top-down, as in your character looks very tiny on screen. I actually really like this sense of depth as it makes the environments seem big and menacing. I just hope they make items a bit more noticeable, otherwise you’ll be squinting far too much while exploring.
How to bring Below back to the forefront
I’ll admit, my hype has faded within the 5 years I’ve waited. There was a period where Below wasn’t even on my mind asI was certain it had been cancelled. With that said, I am actually very happy we will be seeing this game (hopefully) soon, but to get that actual hype back for it Capybara will need a strong E3 showing.
For the most part we already know what kind of game we are getting: it’s a pretty standard (at this point) roguelike game with some survival elements thrown into it, not much different than the enjoyable Necropolis, but with a different perspective, art design and a much better sound design. Below definitely has its strengths, but at this point it’s looking almost. . . generic. I don’t blame the game itself. I blame the fact a lot of similar games have been released over the years.
What they need to show us is an intriguing trailer showcase: show us why we need to be excited about Below again. Its main point of intrigue right now is the mystery of what’s below, what is down in those depths that makes us want to keep exploring after each death. I don’t want them to ruin any surprises, but I’d love them to show some brief glimpses of any cool things we can find down there.
Here’s hoping, with all this time they were adding new mechanics, some new enemies, and making sure that each playthrough is truly unique and not just a mirror swap of a the previous one. I want to see a myriad of craftable items and weapons, as well as hulking monsters down into the depths, monsters you will dread and have to prepare for. Co-op is something that has to be added as well.
There isn’t much else to say about the game’s art direction, lighting, music or camera work. These all look fantastic, and with Jim Guthrie creating the music for it, it’s going to be a wonderful work of art. I have zero concerns regarding anything related to Below‘s artistic department.
Below still looks fantastic, but in today’s market I think it’s going to need a little more oomph to really grab everyone’s attention again.