Deep Under the Sky – What We Think:
Deep Under the Sky, from Rich Edwards and Colin Northway – the makers of Pineapple Smash Crew and Incredipede, respectively, is the sort of game that exists because someone wanted to see if it could be done. A physics-based puzzler in which everything is controlled with the spacebar, the game is essentially a proof of concept to see how much depth can be squeezed from a game with one button.
Far From Spineless
Fortunately, the answer is much greater than you’d think. Taken on its own experimental terms, Deep Under the Sky is exceptional. It’s still very, very good when measured against other video games with more complex control schemes. The developers have bolstered the simple premise with superb level design that allows for endless variation without overburdening the player.
In Deep Under the Sky, you play as a bioluminescent jellyfish attempting to seed the surface of Venus. (The title refers to the dense clouds that obscure the planet’s surface.) You initiate gameplay when you launch a spherical baby jellyfish from a spore cannon and then attempt to guide the orb around various obstacles to reach a fertile destination. Each touch of the Space Bar triggers the next action in a predetermined sequence, so depending on the context, you’ll have to use grappling hooks, rockets, and shields to navigate treacherous terrain.
The game succeeds because the instructions are almost deceptively straightforward, remaining the same regardless of the intended action. The levels are static and the paths to each objective are relatively linear, so the challenge is based entirely on timing. Get that right, and you don’t need to worry about button combos. If you press the Space Bar at the proper moment, the game will take care of the rest and propel you onto the next portion of the stage.
PB&J (Push Button and Jellyfish)
The other design elements are wrapped around that stable core, with variety introduced through additions to levels rather than mechanics. The result is intricate yet accessible, with well-constructed puzzles remain engaging beyond the initial gimmick. It helps that the game doesn’t punish you for failure. A new jellyfish can be launched seconds after the previous attempt, ensuring that you spend most of your time playing the game rather than waiting for something to happen.
Partially Cloudy Sky
Deep Under the Sky is not perfect. The Venus trappings are irrelevant, and some of the larger stages can drag on when you’re trying to reach an out-of-the-way location for the fifteenth time. There’s also a chance that the ideal target audience consists of other game developers interested in minimalism.
But good design is good design, and Edwards and Northway have applied a workmanlike polish for more casual consumers. The glowing visuals (they literally glow) are pleasant enough to look at and complement the narrative conceit, while the excellent grasp of fundamentals provides a foundation to anchor the experience. There just aren’t any notable missteps worth pointing out.
Hits The Right Button
Deep Under the Sky is hardly revolutionary. It’s a physics-based puzzle game and should be evaluated accordingly. But it’s an intriguing design concept taken to its logical conclusion, an argument in favor of more streamlined player interfaces. Entertainment doesn’t have to be too complex. With Deep Under the Sky, Edwards and Northway have utilized that to their advantage.
Check out the trailer for Deep Under the Sky: