Friday, August 21, 2020

Shinsekai: Into the Depths (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central's next review for August arrives from deep beneath the ocean blue. It's a former Apple Arcade-exclusive game that recently arrived on the Nintendo Switch. It's Shinsekai: Into the Depths, and if you haven't yet tried this game out, "water" you waiting for?

Not unfathomably great, but still a game worthy to take the plunge on

Originally released as an Apple Arcade exclusive, Capcom's Shinsekai: Into the Depths puts players in the role of one of the last submariners in an iced-over world. As the ice has utterly decimated the world, humans retreated to the briny deep below, but even there, the ice has started to penetrate into the waters. This is where Shinsekai's story begins, with the submariner being forced out of their underwater safe house due to encroaching ice. Now, they must journey through the dangerous and mysterious waters of the world to find a new place to call home.

The story of Shinsekai: Into the Depths is an understated one, featuring a total lack of dialogue. Instead, the game prefers a show and not tell approach, offering myriad pictograms and slides to view, leaving it up to the player to decipher them and the story as a whole themselves. Still, even if you wish to shut off your brain completely when it regards to the game's tale, you'll still get an enjoyable underwater adventure. It's just that Shinsekai: Into the Depths' experience is heightened through better understanding the overall narrative... I imagine. I'm dumb as a box of rocks, so the hell if I know what was going on most of the time. That's okay, though, because I bet you, reading a review of mine, probably care more about the gameplay of Shinsekai: Into the Depths than my boasting about my eighth grade level of media literacy anyway.

Rather than eat this submariner whole, how about a spear to tide this overgrown creature over?
Regardless, moving around the underwater world of Shinsekai sees our intrepid submariner using the pack on their back to jettison through the water, and that involves having you, the player, keep an eye on their oxygen tanks. The more you propel the submariner through the water to gain height, the more oxygen is used. Hostile creatures and even things like falling from painful heights will damage your oxygen tanks, resulting in them becoming cracked and eventually unusable. Fortunately, there are extras aplenty throughout the game world to pick up, though you can only hold a small capacity of tanks at the start of the game. When all of the oxygen and air are used up, it's game over due to asphyxiation.

There is a plethora of spots to excavate minerals from,
so intrepid explorers will want to be on the lookout for them.
The major gameplay loop of Shinsekai has you slowly but surely being able to survive higher areas of pressure, aka reaching deeper and deeper levels of the mysterious ocean abyss. This is performed by acquiring the right amount of resources to build new suit upgrades on the fly, and that is done through finding materials in storage containers and mining points, both sprinkled throughout the game world. Smartly, while the resources required for you to level up your suit to reach deeper portions of the ocean change with each upgrade level, the resources you need to find never require you to backtrack; that is to say, they're always in the general area of where you need to go next. Excavated resources and materials found underwater can also be used to craft limited use weapons, helpful items, and permanent upgrades that increase your oxygen capacity and strengthen your suit's defense when it concerns extreme temperatures.

The red line on the mini-map in the corner of the screen (and this uninviting red water)
show depths that house too much pressure currently for our submariner friend's suit.
Thus, Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a clever Metroid-structured game, where the main method of progression isn't item or ability-based (though those are used here and now, of course), but instead, it's based on upgrading your suit to tolerate higher underwater pressures, thus allowing you to access and explore new areas of the game world. That's not to say this aforementioned "clever Metroid-structure" is perfect. The foundation certainly is there, but it can be frustrating to traverse underwater, having the submariner cling to walls when you don't want them to, stumbling around areas to find specific materials, and learning to come to terms that even the shortest of falls can result in damage to your character. The latter point is a bit annoying, especially early in the game where you lack a plentiful amount of oxygen tanks, resulting in one or two cracked tanks leaving with you with little health to work with.

Later in Shinsekai: Into the Depths, you come across your own submarine, which allows you to access to new areas completely, using its drill to serve as the "key" to power through the ice "gates" that separate major unique areas of the game. It's also used in combat, particularly well done in one boss battle. Speaking of those, encounters in Shinsekai can be intense to the uninitiated, but each have a method and weakness to defeating them. The part that can be difficult is figuring that out.

While some areas can be quite claustrophobic, others are wide open to explore. Great for one's submarine.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths isn't a terribly lengthy game. I completed it with most of the in-game achievements in tow in just over seven hours. However, a second run mode, the potential for players to miss certain collectibles, and the simple joy of replaying the game make an argument for some more longevity. That and the game being a general and genuine pleasure to play and being a poignant experience adds to that aforementioned argument as well.

As a game originating on iOS devices via the Apple Arcade initiative, it didn't take much housekeeping for Capcom's game to arrive on the Nintendo Switch in a positive manner, but Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a successful port of a sublime and creative take on the Metroidvania genre. Aquaphobics may feel some unease playing this particular title, but for everyone else, Shinsekai: Into the Depths delivers an engaging, if not short-lived underwater adventure worthy of diving in and enjoying.

[SPC Says: B]

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