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Shinsekai: Into the Depths Review- What if the water level was good

Since time immortal philosophers have asked, “what if the water level wasn’t shit?” Shinsekai: Into the Depths aims to answer that question as a resounding “it would be like this.” There’s your intro paragraph. 

In Shinsekai: Into the Depths, you play as a nameless aquanaut, who looks like the yang to Black Manta’s yin. The last of your kind, you are living your day to day life as an undersea scavenger, when suddenly your home is crushed by rapidly growing ice. From there, you’re forced out into the world to survive and hopefully find out why this all is happening. Along the way, you encounter the remnants of some kind of undersea civilization, now in ruins. The story is barebones and manifests in the form of whatever environment you find yourself in. Don’t expect to be collecting audio logs or documents to explain the world. Beyond a handful of signs with various nautical pictographs, the only lore is that in which you dream. Or read from the Nintendo e-shop/app store’s description.

The atmosphere of Shinsekai: Into the Depths is stellar. One of the best aspects of the game. When Shinsekai tells you to use headphones, take their advice. Incredible sound design. The vibrant colors and music make the exploration that much more enjoyable. Stylized enemies and environments feel reminiscent of Subnautica, and the deeper you go, the stranger the world gets. Near the surface, you’ll find sunken cars, deeper you’ll be exploring ziggurats. The precursor civilization left a lot of Japanese aesthetic ruins for you to explore, both those based on reality and also stylish futuristic tech buildings.

Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a metroidvania, more or less. It meets all of the criteria—open-ended areas, progression blocked by character upgrades, hunting down secrets, stuff like that—but it feels a lot less like most others I’ve played. Combat takes a back seat, and instead Shinsekai: Into the Depths focuses mainly on exploration and survival. The former was probably most enjoyable for me. While the first zone or two are fairly linear, pretty soon Shinsekai gives you sprawling labyrinthine areas in which to explore. 

This brings us to survival. Shinsekai: Into the Depths is, while certainly a lot less intense, very much a survival game. Management of resources is critical. I don’t even need to tell you that the most important resource is oxygen, but it goes a bit further than that. Oxygen tanks supersede a health bar. You find dozens of air tanks in each level, but each one has two blips of damage they can take before shattering. On top of that, air is used for mobility too, more on that later. 

After that, you’re constantly on the hunt for mineable ores, which you use to craft items and upgrade your gear. Ammo, backup air, repair kits, all these require materials that you have to go out and find. Using your flashlight and sonar (which is just you banging your melee weapon on the ground), you go through the zones searching for these materials. I rarely found myself low on supplies, with the exception of a spikey ore that mainly came from enemies. Mining is required for progression in Shinsekai and honestly, I found it to be kind of enjoyable.

Upgrades are the main gameplay goal. The most obvious reason is that Shinsekai: Into the Depths uses water pressure as a means of blocking progression. Maximum depth is signaled by a red bar, which kind of looks like a cranberry juice river underneath the sea. Go below it and your oxygen tanks begin to crack. Every level requires you to find the right resources to give your suit that extra oomph to go a few meters deeper. Thankfully, the level design for Shinsekai: Into the Depths gives you some slack. Say you need 71kg of blue rocks. Near the one path leading deeper, you’ll find one ore deposit with 46kg rocks and close by, a deposit of 25kg rocks. This is whatever the opposite of artificial difficulty is, maybe artificial ease. Anyways I’m not complaining, for those who aren’t obsessive-compulsive like me and don’t feel the need to search every inch of a map for resources I can’t even carry in my inventory, you can progress at your leisure. 

Shinsekai: Into the Depths has combat, but it’s probably the weakest aspect. The combat is clumsy and awkward, and you fight creatures with just a little too much health/durability. On top of that, most weapons are more so tools to get through each level, and only a couple are usable in a fight. Your main armament and the one you start out with is a spear gun that shoots three spears in a row, which is dope and I want one in real life. The speargun is the highest damage and most sensible weapon. You’ve also got a nice big hook to use for melee. Other than that, most weapons are situational. After that, you get a harpoon gun, which does little damage but can either reel enemies in for a melee critical hit, or you can pump the enemy full of glowy juice and turn them into bait for other enemies. Then you get a drill gun, which shoots a drill so mind-numbingly slow that it’s not usable in combat. And so on. Thankfully combat is not the main concern for Shinsekai and I don’t count that against it. 

What I do count against it is the infrequent boss fights. On occasion, you’ll find yourself facing a large sea creature, mechanical or otherwise, and obviously be forced to fight it. Unfortunately, the combat, as I mentioned, is awkward. Weapons are ineffectual, movement is slow and the boss is a lot less sluggish than you. Each boss encounter was unpleasant and only served to consume a bunch of resources. Even though they’re aquatic, it’s like they were made for a game that was not underwater. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. Perhaps with some mechanical tweaks, they could be better, but the bosses in Shinsekai: Into the Depths are just not fun.

Shinsekai: Into the Depths is an oddity. Certainly not perfect, but who can fault it for combat that feels like it’s underwater. For a small indie metroidvania, especially one that was originally app store exclusive, it’s a hidden gem. Similar to Yoku’s Island Adventure, it takes the genre in a new and interesting direction. Took probably 10 hours to beat, and at $20, I say it’s well worth it. 

Summary

Combat sux, all else rox

Overall
3.5
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