I Can Hold My Breath Forever
Latest in a long line of things that make you go "Hmmm," or "WHAT," is I Can Hold My Breath Forever, a short, experimental little title made by Jake Elliott for the Experimental Gameplay Project's March theme of "10 Seconds". The game controls simply using the [arrow] keys, and it's your job to guide the protagonist through a series of underwater caverns in search of his friend, who dove in long ago. Contrary to the title, your hero can actually only hold his breath for ten seconds, which begins to count down as soon as he dives, and if that runs out, he dies. To prevent this, keep your eyes out for caves full of air that you can swim up into and catch your breath to replenish the timer. Also within you'll find notes left behind by your friend that talk about various things and act as checkpoints you'll automatically return to if your breath runs out.
It's a strangely melancholic little title, despite the typically upbeat tone in the notes your friend leaves you, and hard to pin down. The first time I finished it I sat and stared at the screen for a good minute or so, then immediately started it up again to see if I'd missed something. The narrative is intriguing, but extremely loose in such a way that the ending feels abrupt and a little unsatisfying.
But as any old sage on a mountaintop will tell you, "Joy is not found in finishing an activity, but in doing it". While the environment could do with some variation the farther you go to provide a grander sense of exploration, what exists is still very atmospheric and a clever interpretation of the "10 Seconds" theme. The soundtrack is extremely simple, but very appropriate, and only adds to the tense experience as you swim through the maze of tunnels with only the fish to light your way. You feel a genuine sense of distress as your air ticks down to nothing, and the notes you find are a nice blend of sad nostalgia and foreshadowing.
I Can Hold My Breath Forever is an interesting, thoughtful little game that tries to do a lot with a small set of concepts. Whether it's successful for you depends entirely on what you take away from the experience.