Platform: PC (£6.99, reviewed) | Also on iOS & Android
Sorry, no, this isn't the stealth sequel to Beneath A Steel Sky. Instead, the developers behind Incredipede and Pineapple Smash Crew have collaborated on one of the most bizarre and intriguing game concepts you'll see this year: an alien jellyfish procreation simulator set beneath the thick Venusian clouds, which challenges us to help an intrepid Cnidarian spread its seed and fertilise a variety of extraterrestrial flora.
Or looked at another way, it's a groovy and relaxing one-button casual game that feels partway between Worms, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings and Machiavelli's Ascent.
The brief opening cinematic sets the stage. Venus' dark side actually glows -- in real life as an unexplained scientific phenomenon -- emitting a faint auroral effect known as the 'Ashen Light.' Deep Under The Sky finally has the answers that have long eluded NASA's top boffins: beneath the crushing acidic clouds lives a thriving ecosystem of bio-luminescent creatures. Playing as one of them, a whopping wobbling jellyfish, we'll blast aerodynamic packets of seed material across 2D levels with the aim of exploding them within range of receptive plants, thus ensuring that the species will live on.
In gameplay terms, this equates to tapping a button (typically the space bar or Mouse1) to launch your genetic projectile, then tapping it again to detonate. A little like firing Worms' Super Banana Bomb, perhaps, only without the need to aim it beforehand. Early levels ease you into the basic concept, allowing you to appreciate the gorgeous and very alien art design while encouraging you to carefully time your inputs to nab a selection of bonus stars.
Deep Under The Sky doesn't rest on its laurels, however, and quickly introduces new gameplay elements as your jellyfish travels through the Venusian atmosphere. Effectively you'll be given extra commands to input between launch and explosion -- always just requiring another button tap -- such as activating a speed boost in a particular direction, holding down the button to curl into a ball that rolls around the scenery, or even carefully timing a grappling hook tendril that lets you travel around corners.
It's incredibly easy to digest and understand, but smart level design (often featuring tight passageways through which to guide your seed pod, bounce pads and timed hazards) ensures that you'll need a degree of skill and timing to complete stages and secure the hidden stars. A stress-free lack of lives and chilled-out ambient grooves ensures that you can play the game at your own pace, and zone into the whole synesthesic vibe, though some of the longer runs and reliance on trial and error makes me wish that we could hold another button to compress time as opposed to watching the same lengthy launches several times over.
That's all there is to it. Indeed, there's not much more to say. As much an ambient chillout session as a score attack videogame, Deep Under The Sky succeeds in being a seriously enjoyable breath of fresh air amidst the pre-Destiny lull.
Deep Under The Sky isn't perfect, mind. The admittedly eyecatching and pixel-crisp backgrounds do lack visual variation within each world, while I have to pick a fight with the scoring system. The lack of scoreboards and unlockables (beyond a 'hardcore mode' which probably should have been available from the get-go for more ambitious players) makes collecting 'Stars' feel contrived and pointless; there simply because it's a videogame and videogames have to have stars.
I'd rather have unlocked new and interesting pseudoscientific tidbits about the Jellyfish and the surroundings, tying into the exciting premise, rather than being pulled out of the experience by this overtly 'gamey' contrivance.
I also have to point out that the Steam version costs £6.99... whereas the iOS and Android versions weigh in at less than a third of the price. Yes, they're different platforms. Yes, indie developers deserve to be paid an appropriate amount for their work, and had I been reviewing this freelance for an indie publication or mobile site, I'd have taken cost out of the equation. Yes, I feel that it's worth £6.99.
But here at Dealspwn.com, value is always at the front of our minds, and I have to suggest that buying Deep Under The Sky on a tablet might be the smarter play.
- Simple yet engaging one-button gameplay
- Eyecatching, crisp and beautiful art direction
- Groovy ambient soundtrack and relaxing zen vibe
- Intriguing and clever premise
- Gameplay hinges around trial & error
- Levels lack visual variety within each world
- Contrived (if not pointless) Star system
- Notable price disparity between PC and mobile versions
The Short Version: Deep Under The Sky is the best alien jellyfish procreation simulator you'll play this year, but more importantly, it's a groovy and relaxing Venusian safari from start to finish. Unwind and savour.