The Land Beneath Us Review: Fair and Square

Square up for a fight.

I dart across the map one square at a time, avoiding the enemy’s ranged fire spell. Before I can attack them though, I have to destroy the red pillar on the top half of the map, So I nudge my character, Sven, into the tall structure with the directional pad. One hit, two hits.

The pillar prepares an area attack, all spaces around it glowing a hazardous yellow. Sven avoids the AoE, but the enemy below connects with a fireball. Sven erupts into white light as they’re defeated. Instead of annoyance, I’m already recalculating my odds in my next attempt in The Land Beneath Us.

The Land Beneath Us balances uncompromising difficulty with quick, punchy combat. Even though I often succumb in the early rounds, it’s temptingly easy to start over. “Just one more run,” I say, but find myself still playing an hour later. Defeat never feels unfair. Over time I adjust to the game’s spatial reasoning, evolving my progress past halting steps forward to fluid arcs across the battle grid.

Related: Dice Assassin first impressions: Watch your step

Bumpslash Battles

The Land Beneath Us review: a red and black world map, with Llogsi Land (North) highlighted.
Screenshot via Dear Villagers.

The Land Beneath Us fuses the grid-based strategy of Into the Breach and the bump-slash combat of Ys. Bump-slash works how you would expect: you bump into an enemy to slash them. There’s no dedicated attack button, only the four directional arrows. Sven stays in place by pressing the left bumper, luring a distant enemy closer. Time progresses turn-by-turn, giving me space to think through my actions.

Sven starts with only their fists, but the first area gives me two free chests to open: red for a weapon, and blue for a relic. Weapons are assigned to directions. Relics give passive effects that affect anything from the player to collectibles in the environment. I bind a blood sword to the up button. It hits one square away from Sven and adds a point of damage to the blade every time it overkills an enemy.

From the blue chest, I salvage a relic that gives extra souls every time Sven obtains gold. But there’s nothing else to destroy or investigate in this first tiny room, so I nudge Sven into the warp point with the crossed swords icon above it and prepare for battle.

Which way, Welshman?

The Land Beneath Us review:: The player selects between three relics. One is a purple cloak, one is a red fork, and one is a green sword.
Screenshot via Dear Villages.

Sven’s loadout isn’t all I have to worry about. Orange slimes and skeletons in little red cloaks inch towards me. One of the slimes crosses over a lava patch and begins bleeding out health with each movement.

I huddle behind one of the rocks funneling them through. The slime hops in front of Sven and I strike, the blood sword felling them and adding additional damage as a prize. And the other enemies bounce through the lava patch one by one, quickly cut down by Sven as they pass. More gold. More souls. I exit through another warp point, this time from a choice of two.

Bits of Welsh dot the world, from the quest to kill Caorthannach hinted at in a terminal, to the name of the areas themselves. The lava-strewn first area is called Llogsi Land—Welsh for “to burn”—on the World map. I don’t know the proper Welsh to conjugate it, but it’s a novel sidestep from the Hades-led resurgence of Greek myth. Maybe the other shopkeepers and characters in non-combat rooms will shed some more light further down.

But first, I need to tighten up my spatial reasoning. Despite my best efforts, getting past the twelfth floor of the first area proves difficult. I slash my way past one miniboss, a giant slime that crushes everything it lands on, then barely claw my way through another encounter with the mage and the red pillar.

More often than not, I fall to enemies crowding me in where I can’t slash my way out. Or misjudging an enemy’s movement patterns, not able to escape the glowing yellow indicators of their oncoming attack.

Getting Gridlocked

The Land Beneath Us review, the protagonist stands between a red chest and a blue chest, deciding between them.
Screenshot via Dear Villagers.

Skill issues aside, The Land Beneath Us is delightfully minimal. The isometric pixel art and particle effects add just enough detail to be evocative. But at some points the game feels a bit too pared down. The white hub world terminals all gleam in different ways, so it takes a few runs before I puzzle out which is interactive and which isn’t. The quests terminal is near the bottom of that first area, yet I was so close to missing it altogether.

Over my many botched runs, I become intimately familiar with the first room of Llogsi Land. It’s bare except for the two chests and a warp point, so I have to nudge Sven around the same area every time to collect loot and leave. I understand its function—allowing new players to experiment with weapons and movement—but after fifteen or so encounters I just wish for a menu.

On lower floors, I notice the limits of the enemy attack indicators. They’re yellow when one enemy targets the same square, and bright magenta when two attacks or statuses overlap. Without more detailed information, sometimes smaller foes hide behind Sven’s sprite, making it difficult for me to figure out a possible solution.

Pressing the right bumper lets me inspect each square for detailed information. But that doesn’t feel the same as being able to tilt the camera slightly and see for myself. It’s one of the few instances where The Land Beneath Us feels unnecessarily complicated.

The Verdict: The Land Beneath Us is Worth Fighting For

The Land Beneath Us review: the protagonist slashes an enemy while staying out of attack range. Swamps dot the background.
Screenshot via Dear Villagers.

The Land Beneath Us is as sleek and sharp as a blood sword. The game’s systems favor careful consideration over needless fuss, paring back layers of potential boondoggles to the bare essentials: your weapon, your enemies’ movements, and the terrain.

Every mechanic layered on top relies on those fundamentals instead of superseding them Despite its generosity of information, The Land Beneath Us doesn’t compromise its difficulty. You may know what’s coming, but that just means your failures are your own. A few structural blemishes affect the game’s flow, but it is still very much worth fighting for. I send Sven through the warp point one more time, determined to see it through.

Press SPACE to jump review 8

Great

ProsCons
Short, sharp runs.Easy to lose sight of information indicators.
Challenging and rewarding bumpslash combat.Smaller enemies can sometimes hide behind the sprite work, needing a few additional button presses.
A unique mythical spin.

Read the Press SPACE to Jump Review Scale for more information on what our scores mean.

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Taylor Hicklen
Taylor Hicklen

Taylor is Press SPACE to Jump's community lead. He likes midrange JRPGs, fighting games, and Dicey Dungeons. Bonus points if there are good fonts. To contact him about your game or other professional inquiries, you can email him at pstjtaylor@proton.me.

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