A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Below is a downloadable fantasy role-playing game for Xbox One and Windows PCs. It has simple combat against wraithlike enemies and animals involving arrows and swords. Small splashes of blood occasionally accompany successful hits, but the characters are tiny and cartoonish, keeping the intensity pretty low. That said, combat can still be stressful because death's permanent. If your character dies, you must start again as a new hero. It's a purely visual game, so much of what happens is up to interpretation, but it quickly becomes clear that travelers are being drawn to an island containing many mysteries. These adventurers are resolved and courageous, though why they're willing to risk their lives on this quest is a riddle that takes some time to decipher. Players should understand before playing that this is a challenging and often punishing game that could prove frustrating for those without patience.
What's it about?
BELOW begins with a lone traveler sailing across an enormous sea towards a rocky island containing untold mysteries. There's no dialogue, text, or instructions. It's up to you to discover the island's secrets by exploring and learning. You'll collect resources and craft tools -- torches, bombs, and more -- to help you on your quest, and you'll hunt animals and harvest plants to create recipes that will keep your adventurer fed. You'll also find strange magical artifacts, including a glowing lantern fed by energy harvested from shadowy enemies that you'll slay with weapons including a sword and a bow and arrows. You need to be careful; one misstep on a spiky trap or too much time spent in a frigid cave will bring an end to your traveler, and death's permanent. The game will begin again, with you taking control of a fresh hero who has just landed on the beach, ready to succeed where the previous protagonist failed -- and maybe pick up some of the items that he dropped upon dying. The game continues in this way -- a cycle of discovery, death, and fresh beginnings -- until you make your way to the island's deepest depths.
Is it any good?
It's not easy, but the satisfaction of discovery and hard-won progress makes all the adversity worthwhile in this adventure. Below is deeply alluring in its simple, dark aesthetic, which includes a haunting soundtrack that sets an ominous tone for your exploration. By providing players with almost no information -- not the identities of the travelers, the purpose of their mission, or even basic tutorials on how to play -- discovery becomes both a goal and a reward almost immediately. Figuring out that you can collect water in a bottle to drink later or that you can combine resources make a bomb is just as satisfying as the functions these items serve when used as tools. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment each step of the way, especially as you begin to discover secret paths that serve as fast travel routes from the beach to deeper dungeons.
Combat, while deceptively basic, eventually grows much more challenging thanks to evolving enemy tactics. Even when it feels easy, there's still a constant sense of unease, since one wrong move could result in death, forcing you to start over again. Indeed, the inclusion of permanent death brings an added sense of melancholy to the adventure. A graveyard of battered ships discovered early on provides sad testimony to the number of courageous adventurers who were drawn to the island only to meet their end. Admittedly, the designers have borrowed from other sources -- veteran players will quickly detect strong influences from everything from The Legend of Zelda to The Binding of Isaac to the Dark Souls games -- but there's more than enough new here to make the experience fresh and distinguished. Below is a small adventure with enormous ambition, and a strong sense of style to boot. An essential play for fans of indie role-playing games and adventures.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. Some players find their minds clear and they perform better if they take a break after becoming stuck in a game, but is this the case for you?
How do you define courage? In the real world, how do you determine whether an objective is worth a feat of courage?
- Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $19.99
- Pricing structure: Paid (This game is included with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.)
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Capybara Games
- Release date: December 14, 2018
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- ESRB rating: T for Blood, Violence
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.