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They Breathe Switch Review

Another quick play, quick review title this month, similar to Distraint 2, is horror-themed They Breathe, for the Nintendo Switch.

If you recall from the recent news piece, the game is an ambiguous title that doesn’t hold your hand and tells a story without any dialogue whatsoever.

Well… that was the promo piece, but I think that having played it, it’s not on par with the description so much. They Breathe definitely has horror elements, it’s ambiguous, but using the latter, the storytelling is as bold as the person playing the game.

They Breathe Switch Review

My editor, me, doesn’t have a word count for news or review pieces, but as I type this sentence, I’m acutely aware that there will no doubt be filler. This is a short game.

On the packaging, i.e. promo piece, the game advised that is was a short story of 30 minutes. The only way I keep track of the time is beard growth, the sundial that dodgy druid left in the garden and the varying depths of emotion my wife has on her face that indicates I should be doing other things.

They Breathe - Holy cow
Holy cow! Source: Screen capture

I’m not entirely sure if it took 30 minutes, but it was quick. They Breathe felt almost like a demo – a showreel of what you can do with game development, only the content and presentation wasn’t exactly groundbreaking.

Much like a child’s story, the characters and backgrounds in the game are hand-drawn, and my first impressions (usually wrong) were that it was a little ropey. As you descend further into the depths, the visuals don’t change so much.

That makes sense, as I would have hated for a break in the game with something more absurd than the gameplay. It’s consistent and very dark on multiple levels.

Like An Homage To McCartney’s Frog Song

Though the game says you’re on your own, it does inform you that you can boost across the screen with the A button. But what are you boosting?

In They Breathe, you play a frog. Beginning from the surface, you gradually dive deeper underwater and encounter some peculiar characters and your brethren.

Immediately bursting across the screen with ferocity (there’s no health gauge of stamina so that you can go nuts), a few bubbles would appear that I swam into.

There was no implication if this was a good or bad thing, so I continued to do it, assuming it was keeping me alive.

After what seemed like a few minutes, but seconds, a cow approached. That’s right, a cow swims at you underwater, gripping onto you and taking you off-screen. If you’re off the screen for too long or trapped for a lengthy period, you will die and return to a checkpoint.

They Breathe - Frogger
A new Frogger? Source: Screen capture

Clearly an enemy, I wasn’t sure what to do other than avoid them. Ramming into them at full speed did nothing, and you’re not equipped with machine guns, so I evaded them for as long as possible while still collecting the bubbles. 

Before long, the cow started mooing, but it subsided when it collected one of these bubbles. Curious what would happen if I dragged this out, I soon learned that the bubbles were keeping it alive and starved of oxygen, it died, and I descended further.

The Lower Depths

As They Breathe is such a brief game, I won’t spoil any more of the gameplay or ending. In summary, it’s much of the same as you go deeper. 

Enemies get much faster and aggressive, and in my first playthrough, I died a few times, but never in a moment of frustration. Very briefly, I did flirt with taking a break as some sections were pretty hard, but on multiple attempts, I got through in the end.

Now, I should say that a game you can complete in a short space of time that has similar enemies and limited gameplay should be a dud and to avoid it, but it’s not that at all.

While I admit I was slightly disappointed with its length and that it wasn’t as horrifying as I had hoped it to be, it was enjoyable, if only a brief experience. Considering I didn’t like the presentation at first, I eventually warmed to it and had a bit more love for frogs. 

I can’t entirely endorse the game as a must-buy, but having finished it (then playing again today), it’s an interesting title that’s worth the experience, though I’m a bit surprised why Bulbware chose this as a port.

Initially developed by The Working PartsThey Breathe is an interesting choice for porting over as I didn’t immediately note a large fanbase of the original, despite the mostly positive reviews on Steam. Considering that Bulbware did the excellent Bulb Boy (still need to get a review done for this!), I had to revisit again to see what I was missing.

The co-op play.

They Breathe - Jelly Cow
Jelly cows. Source: Screen capture

I don’t share the same views as noteworthy reviewers like Markiplier saying ‘scarring me for life’ so I collared my daughter to play. Immediately she was freaked out, calling the characters gross but intrigued to see what happened next.

Playing together, it was that peering behind the pillow moments that changed my view of the game a little. There’s no doubt about the atmosphere in the game – it’s fantastic and really creates an uneasy presence.

However, the story elements are so vague that it doesn’t warrant an explanation on the ‘why’ in the narrative. I always stress that I love ambiguity, but They Breathe wasn’t lingering in my mind for long after playing it.

But, it’s differences of opinion, and you may find that it’s a fantastic indie game. 

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