They Breathe started as a school project by two of the team members from The Working Parts studio. It has been completely remade and released for PC. It’s a game that throws you right into the action, and gives you almost no instruction on how to play. Much like Othello, it is a game that is simple to learn, and hard to master, but is it worth your time?
You start off as a frog, sitting on a log, floating high over a forest. Some sort of event has happened, causing the forest to flood, and it is up to you to swim to the bottom and find out what is going on. You move around with WASD or the arrow keys, and can give yourself a bust of speed by hitting the space bar. The simple controls are tight and responsive. In order to sustain your deep dive, you must collect air bubbles to stay healthy. You have no health meter, but your Frog will turn brown and start releasing bloody air bubbles and gasping for breath as you lose air. It’s all very intuitive in showing you what you need to do to keep yourself swimming down.
As you start to swim down, you will find other frogs gasping for breath. You can knock them into air bubbles, to help them recover, and they will swim back to the surface. Knocking frogs around can get very difficult, because you have no control over how they move, so if you don’t hit them at just the right angle, they can go rocketing off in a direction you don’t want them to go. As you continue down further, you will run into jellies, which will attack you, as well as the frogs you are trying to rescue. A jelly with no frog attached to it cannot release air from its body, so leading it into air bubbles will eventually burst it. It can get difficult to save the frogs as you go down, as if the jellies touch them, they will start to assimilate them, but this can be interrupted by leading them over an air bubble. Enemies and frogs come in waves, and the next wave will not start until all frogs are saved or dead, and all enemies are defeated.
The graphics are simple, but but well stylized. Everything has a great hand drawn look, as though each frame was done with a combination of watercolors and colored pencils. The sounds are also sparse, but what sound is there helps build a very haunting atmosphere, giving the whole game a creepy feel that is very interesting. I generally appreciate a fantasy style in game art, since it gives it a more timeless quality than many games that strive for realism, and the art in this game will age well.
They Breathe is not a long game. Your first playthrough will last you about 30 minutes. This does not mean that it is a game devoid of replay value. You can always improve your clear time, and strive for the sub twenty minutes achievement. You can also work harder to save more frogs, as in many situations, letting a frog die will make the game easier for you. For just two dollars on Steam, the game offers plenty of value for the price.
Short Attention Span Summary:
They Breathe is a compact experience that will either grab hold of you, or not. I personally enjoyed the atmosphere and the challenge of it, but if the idea of a survival game done in the style of a vertical scrolling space shooter starring frogs and jellies doesn’t appeal to you, then the game likely won’t be for you. If you are even a little bit intrigued by the concept, it’s easily worth your two dollars to give it a try.