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January 2021

Shinsekai: Into the Depths

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: April 26, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Shinsekai: Into the Depths'

by Cody Medellin on June 19, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a action-based deep-sea exploration game that submerges players into the solitary struggle of the last-surviving human as they sink ever deeper into an unexplored, aquatic world.

Capcom has been a very prolific developer during this console generation, but almost all of that has come from known properties, whether it's proper sequels like Mega Man 11 and Devil May Cry 5 or remastering beloved classics like Resident Evil 2. The last time the company did an original game was Dragon's Dogma in 2012. It wasn't until September 2019 that the company did an original IP with Shinsekai: Into The Depths, and what surprised people the most was that it was released for iOS on the new Apple Arcade service. After six months, Nintendo fans can see what the fuss is all about on the Switch.

In the future, the planet has been overtaken by a thick ice that has forced humans to seek shelter in the deep sea. Slowly, the ice has moved into the ocean while humans have died off. You play the role of perhaps the last human left, living out your existence mining for minerals. When the ice finally invades your living space, you have no choice but to venture further into the ocean to find new shelter.

What makes the narrative so strong is its unusual approach. The game may feature cut scenes, but they're all done in-game with minimal camera changes beyond the default side-scrolling view. There are no voices in the game and no text to act as a replacement. The historical logs are mostly illustrated, and the smattering of text is done in an alien script. This game is dependent on action to convey the plot, something you'd find in the realm of indie titles rather than one with a bigger development budget.

The core mechanics follow the standard Metroidvania formula rather well. Exploration is encouraged, as the areas are quite sizable and you can overcome barriers once you find the right tools for the job. You have weapons at your disposal, and the big boss fights test your combat skills. Like a number of modern games in the genre, gathering resources is a big thing, since you'll use things that are gathered in the environment and from downed enemies to get more ammo, health repairs, or improve your abilities to explore further and carry more.

Of those elements, combat is emphasized the least in Shinsekai. Enemies aren't going to be as plentiful as expected, and your limited arsenal is pretty good. Your melee hook swing attack has good range and delivers a fair deal of damage to knock out wayward sea creatures in a few hits. Your speargun's spread pattern works great for crowds as long as you're mindful of finding or creating more ammo for it. The harpoon is much more versatile due to its ability to activate switches from afar, pull in enemies for a harder melee hit, or inject them with bioluminescent fluid so other fish can attack them.

The focus isn't on combat because the environment does a better job of being your enemy. At certain spots, the ice starts to invade, and even when it stops moving, just touching it causes ice build-up that can slowly kill you. The suit can only withstand so much pressure, so landing in any place with red water slowly crushes you. Your health meter is signified by your oxygen, which depletes slowly in the water but at a faster rate if you crack your oxygen tank from a fall or via enemy attacks. That becomes a bigger deal, since your oxygen is also your fuel for your jets, so it's a delicate balance between using them for treks to higher ground and staying alive.

Adding in to those environmental perils is the fact that your suit is designed for basic survival, rather than toughness or sleekness. In the water, your walking speed is slow due to the weight of the suit. Use your jets to get a boost, and you could lose some control by getting too much pressure and slamming yourself against the ceiling. During a fall, you can shift your body to land headfirst into the ground for even more damage to the oxygen tanks. When you're out of the water, the weight of the suit is felt even more, since you're lumbering around without the aid of jets to help you maneuver. You don't feel like a human tank, but don't expect to be as limber as you would be in similar genre titles.

Fortunately, Shinsekai gives you plenty of tools and resources to keep the adventure going. Air bubbles are strategically placed in the world, so you can refill your oxygen tanks quickly and get an extra bubble to use so your tanks don't immediately begin to deplete. If you're willing to take the chance of attracting dangerous fish to you, you can use your light to uncover special areas of rock where you can dig to locate more crafting materials. More important are materials that will help your suit withstand the higher pressures of the water below. One of the more interesting things you'll find is a material that lets you establish new save points and air bubble spots in specific spots in the world. Due to their rarity, it's a risk/reward mechanic, since it falls on you to determine if you need the extra safety spot.

The result is a gameplay loop where you'll primarily explore while occasionally getting into a skirmish. Finding pockets of air becomes as essential as shining a light to discover resources to dive into higher pressure waters. As you proceed through the loop, you'll uncover more mysteries about what's going on, which further propels your desire to complete the loop to see things to the end. It is addictive and engaging enough that the hours spent in the campaign seem to pass by really quickly.

That loop is bolstered later by two things that aid greatly in the journey. The first is a drone that helps to activate door switches and go through tight spaces to fetch resources and more oxygen tanks. Later on, you also find a submarine that lets you dive deeper into the waters and comes with an umbilical cable, so you have unlimited air for as long as you're connected.

There are only a few annoyances. Even though it is central to the plot, the encroaching ice blocks out good chunks of the environment, preventing the world from expanding as previously closed-off areas are now open for exploration and backtracking. Also, some people may find the game to be forgiving enough that any sense of challenge is gone. There can be an abundance of materials if you're the type to explore every possible nook and cranny of an area to the point where the late game's diminishing resource count isn't a bother. With the only other difficulty level being even easier than the default, there's no chance to replay the game with tougher settings unless you impose your own restrictions on the new run.

Beyond the main adventure, the Switch iteration has a few extras in tow. Soundtrack mode lets you listen to every song in the soundtrack uninterrupted, a nice throwback of a feature since so few games nowadays come with a sound test as an option. There's also Another Dive, which can be viewed as the game's Challenge mode, where you're given an hour to reach the deepest part of the ocean and defeat the boss at the end. The catch is that you'll be doing so with no upgrades at your disposal, so it's an excellent bonus to conquer if you found the standard difficulty to be too easy.

The presentation is done well. The soundtrack rides the line between inviting and haunting, and it does a great job of doing both. The muffled nature of that and the sound effects really add to the underwater theme. Graphically, this is another title that you'd be hard-pressed to say originated in the mobile space. The use of blurred backgrounds and various debris and fish populating each environment does a great job of making the world feel large and your character feel small, while the little animation touches are a nice touch, like your flailing arms when you're in a freefall or end up boosting too far. The only flaw is the dithering that's often seen at the screen edges.

The best compliment that we can give to Shinsekai: Into The Depths is that it feels like a well-done indie game. Exploration is the game's big hook, since the environments, secrets, and floaty movement encourage looking around, while combat works most of the time but isn't the main focus of the experience. There's a good balance between exploring at your leisure, maintaining your stats for survival, the boss fights, and the dwindling resources in the late game. Although the extras aren't enough to entice Apple Arcade subscribers to double-dip, everyone else will enjoy this adventure from beginning to end.

Score: 8.0/10

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