Living under the sea never seems to be a glamorous experience. Every video game that takes place under the sea displays it as a dystopian environment. That’s not to say that these worlds aren’t entertaining to play through. Subaeria is no exception to this rule.
So, what is Subaeria? It’s a puzzle based rogue-like developd by Studios iLLOGIKA. Set in a future where mankind was lazy enough to let global warming drown every land mass, but not so much that they didn’t make an underwater city to survive in. You begin the game as Styx, a girl who unintentionally murders her family by breaking the law. She then begins her quest to go kill the president to avenge her family. The story obviously has a very simple premise and neatly brings the player into the game. However, the cutscenes did go a little faster than I could read them so it wasn’t easy to immediately work out what was happening.
Once I worked out the plot and why some bloke in a poster had to die, I began my quest. Simply put the game is fairly good. Aesthetically the game has a nice feel to it, only added to by the top down perspective. Character and enemy animations are quite clear as well making it easy to determine what is happening among some of the more chaotic levels. Each enemy has a distinct sound too making it a great accompaniment for players who didn’t see an attacking enemy.
The soundtrack adds a neat layer of atmosphere to the current situation you are in as well letting the player know whether they are still in danger or not. Gameplay mostly consists of the player trying to work out the best way to get the enemies to kill themselves. Not an easy task, but an immensely satisfying one. Players are given control of both Styx and her Drone. Both of which are controlled simultaneously with the left and right analog sticks respectively. While at first it seems daunting having control of both, it doesn’t take long to get used to the control scheme.
Since Styx is mostly useless you can use her as bait for the robots to kill themselves or use the drone, which houses your Apps. Apps function as the abilities of Styx and can be considered the core way to progress through levels despite their initial limited usage. Making more frequent use of Apps increases their strength as well as their use limit. By doing this, it encourages the player to use an ability more often as what first may seem quite weak can become very powerful in its later stages. Once you’ve played the game for a short while, Apps become slightly redundant as the player learns to rely on them less the longer they play. Not to say they are useless though as they can come in very handy against a boss.
There are also Boosts that are available to Styx. Essentially basic buffs that would increase max health or drone range. Always useful to have, especially the health one as low health on some of the later stages is a nightmare. Both Apps and Boosts can be bought using the normal currency or through NPC’s with food pills. The latter of which is the best way to get these Boosts. Either that or tricking the robots into helping you get them.
Speaking of robots, Subaeria’s enemies have a nice variety to them and are designed clearly enough that the player will always know how to best deal with any enemy type. Manipulating them is a piece of cake too making it fairly easy to get them to do what you want.
As with any rogue-like the bosses are where the true challenge is. Each boss functions like a normal room with a very specific puzzle to defeat them. Once you work it out, you just rinse and repeat to take them down. Androids like these tend to be the biggest roadblock to progression as they always offer a consistent challenge. Supposedly there are four of them to fight, but I only ever found three of them. The boss of floor two seems to be the biggest pain. Due mostly to the fact I encountered the most bugs on his floor. Most severe of which involved robots that can kill him not spawning. Although these bugs very rarely occurred.
Ultimately the greatest conflict I have with Subaeria is its level design. Each room is carefully designed to be a challenging puzzle for the player to overcome. While this can act as a double-edged sword, it works more in the game’s favour. Since the puzzles always involve putting yourself in some form of danger there is always a risk that keeps the player invested in solving the room quickly. This appears to be fairly consistent until about floor three where the difficulty seems to unexpectedly spike much higher than it had on the previous two floors. Although, this may be due to the fact that the fourth floor is the final boss. However, there is still the issue that once a room is solved it gets easier each time round as the player always knows the solution.
An issue not greatly helped by what appears to be a small range of rooms per floor which makes the game feel surprisingly short despite having 13 endings. While its defiantly worth taking the time to get these endings, the lack of level length and puzzle variety doesn’t add much challenge to the hardened rogue-like veteran.
A lot of thought and effort has clearly been put into building the in-depth world of Subaeria. It’s a fun game to play, but much like the cities of these dystopian water worlds it has some very clear flaws, unintentionally brought out by its level and map design, that left me feeling conflicted overall. Despite that, it’s definitely worth playing.