Saving Eternal Autumn in the Land Above Sea Below Environmental Puzzler

Land Above Sea Below
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Those who enjoy puzzle games have had a really good year as the genre is experiencing a resurgence like never before. The Steam platform is the home for many of these titles, especially the ones created by independent developers looking to get their hard work out to the world in the most efficient way possible. A few of these new puzzle titles also make their way to Android or iOS mobile platforms, but most are exclusive to the PC or even the Steam platform. In any case, most of this new slew of quality puzzle titles are also pretty reasonably priced, which is yet another boon for those who enjoy playing both puzzle and casual titles.

One of the latest games to fit that bill is Land Above Sea Below from developer Glasscannon Studio. It was released in September on Steam, and depending on the various Steam sales, is normally available for around $10, which is a really good price for a puzzle game that can be played either for hours on end, or for just a few minutes when players have a little free time and want to take a quick break with an interesting puzzle challenge.

Like many of the titles in this genre, Land Above Sea Below is a builder that relies on players skillfully placing tiles in order to increase their kingdom, with bonuses if they are able to group like tiles together in the same area. That makes Land Above Sea Below a game that is a good mix of both luck and skill because what tiles come up in the deck is random, and players will have to draw upon their skills and experiences to make the most out of their draw each turn.

In a lot of ways, Land Above Sea Below is very similar to another casual builder and puzzle title which we reviewed before, Dorfromantik. But while Dorfromantik, which means “village romanticization” in German, is purely a peaceful builder where the only challenge is trying to build up a high score alongside a picturesque countryside, in Land Above Sea Below, you are literally trying to save your kingdom from rising floodwaters, with lower elevation areas getting swallowed up by the sea at the end of every season. You are not timed or anything like that and can take as much time as you want to make your moves, but the pressure to keep as much of your kingdom as possible above water is always there. And that adds an element of urgency into the otherwise peaceful gameplay.

Gameplay in Land Above Sea Below is both simple and challenging. In normal mode, players will be playing for 10 seasons, with a build phase where they can put down tiles and also play special cards which give various advantages like adding more turns to the season, and then there is an end-of-season phase where the water rises up and swallows whatever is stuck in a low-lying area. Your ultimate goal is to protect the Tree of Fall, which is the heart of your land. Should it get consumed by the waves, then the game ends.

In general, one of the biggest goals for players will be to place three similar tiles together which results in all connected, similar and unbroken land masses around that area rising up a level and getting further away from the rising sea levels. If you can place four tiles or more together, you get the rise in elevation and another tile which can be placed in the same season before the water levels rise. There are also special cards like lakes and rivers which can act as barriers because they never sink. Good play results in higher scores, as does meeting the objectives that Land Above Sea Below sets out for players. Doing that will result in an event card which can in some cases permanently grant bonuses that last for the entire playthrough.

Graphically, Land Above Sea Below looks nice, not unlike many other similar puzzle titles featuring detailed tiles against a minimalist background. The interface is also such that it should run well even on lower-end PCs. We played it on both a gaming rig and a normal laptop, and the gameplay was smooth on both platforms. The graphics are enhanced by the wonderful soundtrack, which features a lot of relaxing, ambient music which is perfect for deep thinking while playing a puzzle game and contemplating each next move.

On the negative side, the title does a pretty poor job of explaining the rules and all of the nuances that players will need to know to be successful. They are not overly complicated as this is not a really complex puzzle title like Terra Nil or even a moderately intricate one like Station to Station or Above Snakes. However, the tutorial is not really adequate at demonstrating for players a good strategy or even the aforementioned rewards for good gameplay. As such, your first few runs are likely going to result in frustrating failures. In the first five or six times I played Land Above Sea Below, I only survived for three or four seasons before my kingdom drowned. Had I not been evaluating it for this review, I probably would have quit playing in frustration at that point.

I am glad that I stuck with it because after I started to grasp some of the nuances of Land Above Sea Below, I was able to craft a solid strategy for keeping my kingdom dry and had a very nice time doing so. However, even then, I was still kind of at the whims of the random number gods. You can fail a run because you simply don’t get the tiles or the cards that you need. That makes Land Above Sea Below a bit more frustrating than many of the other aforementioned puzzle games I’ve reviewed this year, and a little bit high on the difficulty curve compared with many other casual games.

Still, if gamers are looking for a casual title with a surprising amount of challenge, Land Above Sea Below will easily provide that, and for a great price as well.

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