By Adam Smith on August 22nd, 2011 at 3:30 pm.
Interactive experiences in which tiny little people dig into the ground and build stuff with the things they find there are the only game in town. And when I say ‘town’ I mean your town as well as mine. When given the choice between fighting in a modern war or building a house made out of dirt, today’s gamer will reach for his trusty pickaxe every time. Well, most times. Some times. Minecraft continues to be a phenomenon and Terraria has been a massive success. Scuba, a flash game from Louissi posted on Armor Games, certainly has more in common with Terraria than Minecraft. It’s a sidescrolling dig ‘em up with a twist. Guess what the twist is. The clue is in the title.
Water. That’s right. Absolutely loads of the stuff. To hammer home the Terraria vibe, the game should really be called Aquaria but that game already exists and is lovely, so Scuba it is.
A brief introduction sets the scene. A rocket crashes onto an alien planet. The man inside (you are now that man!) must find the parts needed to fix his ship. It’s an age-old dilemma and one that Commander Keen solved by use of a pogo stick and a raygun. For our intrepid adventurer though, it’s a mining laser that comes to the rescue. And a handy diving suit.
The game wears its inspiration on its sleeve and if you didn’t enjoy Terraria, there’s nothing that will pull you in here. It’s the exact same thing on many levels. I felt a stronger urge to explore deeper, faster, mainly because the surface is a lot duller than in Terraria. The suit can only handle a certain amount of pressure as well, so going deeper requires upgrades. It could be a clumsy way to reign in progress but it fits the theme and it feels horrid when the little man (who, recall, you now are) is slowly crushed to death in his archaic looking suit.
Having all that water down there differentiates the game from Terraria somewhat and it’s a good job, because otherwise it’d be a bit pointless having them both knocking around. Air and depth pressure are the main issues, but the water also changes movement. No need to dig stairways behind you, now it’s possible two swim back to the surface. Turns out being underwater is very much like having a jet pack in that regard.
The other major difference is that even though the game has a sandbox feel to it, there is an objective. To fix that engine and get off the planet. I haven’t actually got that far so couldn’t say how long it takes or whether there’s an actual ending as such, but there is a direct goal. And that’s something Terraria and Minecraft both lack, for better or worse.
Two things made me actually delve deeper into the game though. The first was to see whether it brought anything new to the Terraria table. It is a remarkable act of imitation but I suspect I’d have to play more to see if it diverges significantly. I doubt it. The second thing that caught my interest was being immediately reminded of Exile. Not the Spiderweb software RPGs but rather the 1988 BBC Micro game. Something about the crash landing, the caverns and the graphics brought it to mind and that pleased me. I’d never made the link with Terraria because the look is so different but perhaps these exploration games have far more ancient origins than we sometimes realise.
A word on the music, since it’s playing in the background as I type this. Sometimes it is reminiscent of a more twee Air and it is quite soothing. I actually thought I’d muted it until I thought about it just then, which suggests it is almost indistinguishable from silence. Ambient is a word I could use.