[PAX East 2020] Depths of Sanity Hand-On Impression – The Death Aquatic with Steve Zissou
It’s honestly remarkable just how many metroidvania games are the same style of platformers. You can probably count on one hand metroidvanias that break the mold. Legend of Zelda, I guess, maybe Dark Souls games too. Not that that’s a problem, but most genres get a ton of variety. But for the most part they, like their namesake implies, are just basic side-scrolling platformers.
However, in spite of the ~200000 new metroidvania platformers at PAX this year, there was one that stuck out. Depths of Sanity, by Bomb Shelter Games, is an upcoming underwater metroidvania game, reminiscent of Ecco the Dolphin or Aquaria. The premise of the game is this. You play as an experienced mariner named Abe in search of the missing Baroness submarine, of which his former crew has gone missing. You alone (with your AI pal and ship, EMMA) must search out this oceanic labyrinth in search of your missing comrades, or what remains of them. Imagine The Life Aquatic but the crew is on another ship, MIA, and the jaguar shark that ate your bud is every single sea creature you encounter.
The story for Depths of Sanity is based on a real-life oceanic phenomenon known as “Bloop.” Bloop was a low-frequency noise that baffled scientists for years (here is a recording, to give you an idea of what Bloop sounded like). Now, the real-life cause of Bloop was in fact just arctic ice cracking. But, as the developers explained, that’s really fucking lame, and so the Bloop in Depths of Sanity is presumably going to be something terrifying.
Not that they even need Bloop to make the game scary. The ocean is terrifying enough as is, and in Depths of Sanity, it is extremely hostile. Every nightmarish ocean creature you can imagine is something you will encounter. And I don’t just mean like a regular shark. I mean like a crab the size of a car, or an anglerfish so fucking huge that they don’t even show more than its unholy maw in the game. And also regular sharks.
The gameplay for Depths of Sanity is a lot like other metroidvanias, except instead of platforming, you control a small submarine. 360 degrees of movement, meaning you’re going to encounter enemies from all angles. All kinds of sea creatures want to chum you up good, and thankfully you’ve got a ton of various weapons to fight them off. In the demo I played, there was a lighting gun (would that work in seawater?), rapid-fire blasters, torpedos, and more. I doubt I need to describe the combat more than that.
As the devs tell me, in a platformer metroidvania you impede progress with stuff like a double jump. For Depths of Sanity, they had to come up for some non-jumping powers for you to obtain. In addition to weapons, you’ll find stuff to overcome obstacles, like a tow line to get through currents, or sonar to get through dark tunnels. I only saw a few, so I’m excited to see how creative they get. You can also, for some extremely terrifying reason, depart your sub and swim around into tight areas. As someone who scuba dove in real life, and can attest to how unsettling it is, doing it in this game was really scary.
Graphically, Depths of Sanity is fine. Same pixel art you know and love. Stylistically it seems pretty good too. Not a whole lot to say about that. Everything else, though, is fucking great. Pardon my shitty pun, but Depths of Sanity blows it out of the water. You’ll definitely want to keep this one on your sonar. I’m really looking forward to playing this one in full because for all the scary sea life I saw in this demo, I have no doubt that there are even more unholy creatures in the depths below.