On the surface, Below the Ocean may look to be another pixel platformer paying homage to the 90s, but beneath that lies a curious twist worth exploring: floatiness.
When thinking of indie platformers, the likes of Super Meat Boy and Celeste comes to mind, and although they look joyful and cute, playing them is an entirely different experience. There is a harsh edge to the pixel precision these games often require, where a single misstep leads to a game over screen. Below the Ocean has a different approach. It sands down the harsh edges and embraces a floaty movement system that, in a palpable way, feels like swimming. If you feel intimidated by pixel platformers this might be the one to get you started.
Floatiness in the movement system is often harshly criticized when it comes to platformers. Little Big Planet, despite all its charm and creativity, never managed to escape that disparaging. label. Understandably, most platformer games these days try to avoid it. However, Below the Ocean developer Ismael Rodriguez built an entire game to support its floaty movement system.
The game is set underwater and there are oxygen tanks scattered about that you have to stay connected to or you will drown. There is a tether system that permeates the whole game that acts both as a life support system and also a grappling hook. The tether attached to these oxygen tanks limit your movement but also allows you to maintain momentum. This is where the floatiness really shines. The game makes considerations for your momentum and gravity while attached, which gives a playful looseness to the platforming. Furthermore, each of the game's four stages adds new systems to train and test you to keep the adventure engaging throughout.
As an adult, for the first time in my life, I am making an effort to learn how to swim. And like learning anything new as an adult, it is much harder than it would have been if I was younger. Or so I like to believe. With the years that come with age, you gain a lot of perspective on life - but also an internal resistance starts to grow. It becomes easier to tell yourself that you can't do something and it becomes easier to believe it. But something as simple as a floatation device can go a long way to convince you otherwise. To have some assistance to help you stay afloat while you paddle aimlessly starts to build up bits of confidence to allow you to keep trying. If you can keep trying you can go a long way.
Below The Ocean can be that floatation device you need to test the waters of the platforming genre. Getting into games as a newcomer can be difficult when a lot of games are designed for seasoned players. So it's nice to have a game that slows things down and allows you room to learn while still testing you a bit. Building up confidence here can then let you tackle some more challenging games in the genre that you might find intimidating.