Robots and lasers beneath the sea - Subaeria first impressions

by: Eric -
More On: Subaeria

I played through the opening few hours of iLLOGIKA’s new action-puzzle game Subaeria last night. To be frank, though I was exhausted from the day and desperately needed to get some sleep, I had a hard time tearing myself away from the game. There is something about this particular concoction of gaming ingredients that grabs me and does not want to let go. The art style, the quick and fun nature of the puzzles, the undersea science fiction environment, it all just works for me.

The opening story is delivered cleanly and efficiently via a series of striking comic-style art panels, effectively setting the stage, building the world, and communicating the story’s primary conflict in under three minutes. Though the story is outlined in an extremely streamlined manner, it still manages to establish the main character, Styx, and engage the player in her quest for revenge.

After a giant flood, humanity has fled the earth’s surface and now exists solely in undersea cities. Because acting-out in an undersea society could quickly lead to disaster for entire civilizations, martial law has become the status quo. In a world where punishments far exceed the nature of crimes, even the most innocent of infractions can have devastating consequences. Styx quickly finds herself the subject of one of these extreme punishments. Before long, she is raging against the machine, focusing her rage directly at Don Dorf, the leader of the undersea nation that Styx lives in. The meat of Subaeria plays out as Styx fights her way across the deep sea city to seek her revenge on Don Dorf.

This all sounds dire and gloomy, but despite its underwater setting, Subaeria is bright and cheery. Drenched in neon colors, each area is striking and appealing, with techno-laser tunes clanging away merrily in the background. Styx moves from compartment to compartment in the city, facing a series of increasingly difficult puzzles in each room. Solve a room, and she can move on to the next one. This leads to a cool “play as much as you want” dynamic, as the game saves your progress when you move between rooms. Though this game was not released for Vita, I can see myself streaming it to Sony’s handheld, as the segmented nature of Subaeria’s gameplay seems perfect for shorter gaming sessions.

As Styx moves into each room, she is faced with a unique puzzle layout. Several robots are wandering about, and will attack Styx if she gets too close. Styx must manipulate the robots into destroying themselves (or each other) before she can move on to the next room. At Styx’s disposal are a basic jump, a dodge move, and a handy dandy drone, who is controlled directly by the player. The drone can be equipped with up to two “apps”, which grant it different powers.

Fiddling around last night, I mostly focused on an app that will allow me to possess enemy robots, and an app that gives the drone a sustained “push” (think of a tractor beam, but reversed). Since the game is procedurally generated, the apps the drone is currently equipped with seem to be taken into consideration when the puzzles are designed. At least, I never came across any puzzles I could not overcome with my current drone loadout. Procedural generation also means that the game will never play the same way twice, giving Subaeria a lot of replay value. I did die at one point, and was happily surprised to see that even the simple opening puzzles had been reconfigured. Even the layout of the rooms seemed different in my second run-through.

Enemies are color-coded, and each color seems to have its own behavior pattern. Yellow and Blue robots can destroy each other, for example, so possessing a blue robot and ramming it into a yellow robot is a viable strategy. With Styx herself being controlled via the left stick, the drone is maneuvered using the right stick. However, the drone is tethered to remain a certain distance from Styx, sometimes necessitating moving her into danger in order to give the drone access to areas it needs to reach. This leads to a fun little juggling act, while your brain attempts to keep Styx safe, manage the drone, and solve the puzzles all at once.

So far, Subaeria feels like a cult hit waiting to happen. Gameplay is unique, fast and engaging. It is surprising how quickly you can solve a puzzle and move onto the next, establishing a rhythm of constant motion, sound, and thought. Even folks that balk at roguelike mechanics might still find something to like in Subaeria’s puzzles and colorful world building. At its very reasonable price point, Subaeria is worth a look for those seeking something a little outside the norm. And you can remote-control robots and ram them into laser beams. Always a good time.

Subaeria is currently on sale for $12.75, and is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.

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