Finally, a good water level.
Considering the idea of an underwater Metroidvania could send chills down one’s spine. Based on the reputation of platforming-heavy titles taking it below sea level, this is an amalgamation that shouldn’t work. Shinsekai: Into the Depths breaks through those expectations to offer one of the better, subaquatic titles in the Nintendo Switch library. Originally released last year onto the Apple Arcade, Shinsekai: Into the Depths offers an immersive and anxiety-inducing experience, even if some of the main mechanics can get tedious.
The silent protagonist of this journey is one of the few survivors of an environmental catastrophe. Ice has overtaken the land and forced humans below the surface of the waves to try to outlast the incursion. Unfortunately, this frozen menace is making its way through the surf as well, as your home is destroyed and you are left to explore for a new safehouse or even some fellow human beings in the depths. Lore is told through hand-drawn storyboards in a foreign dialect and the dialogue is presented purely through body language. This makes for a quiet experience that forces you to decipher meaning, rather than telling you what is happening outright. The adventure is more mysterious, which pairs well with the fear created from your downwards journey.
Tools and upgrades are the name of the game here, as progression is stalled via a pressure-based system that only allows mere baby steps into the abyss. Through resource collection, you can improve your suit enough to allow you to make it down to the next level of caverns, gathering weapons and items along the way to combat sea creatures and swing from the ceiling. Following that Metroidvania style, you must return to areas to find secrets or progress towards necessary metals and organics. Things stay fairly simple, which was appreciated, as traversal is a tough cookie to crack as it is.
The platforming in Shinsekai: Into the Depths is more interesting than most due to the submarine nature of this title. You are equipped with a jetpack of sorts, that allows you to jettison through the water with ease, as well as in powerful bursts, but these movements use up valuable oxygen. Luckily, replenishment of your tanks occurs fairly often, and I never found it to be a taxing system, but when you get close you are left to slowly walk and climb your way around, which is understandably slow. The biggest issue I had with this system was the sensitivity to falls. Even drops that seem like they should be more than okay can end with a cracked oxygen tank, which can result in less air supply. Replacement tanks can be found scattered about, but it is still something that was bothersome at times. A submarine in the latter stages makes for a more efficient experience, but the opening hours can be rough if you aren’t careful.
Resource gathering is the main source of your time in Shinsekai: Into the Depths, but unfortunately offers a tedious experience that can be quite dull. Certain types of alloys are needed to better your equipment, forcing a constant search for those items. This is done through a mechanic where your flashlight is used to discover patches of digable dirt. These areas are found all over the place, meaning some resources end up filling your inventory quickly, while the ones actually needed are harder to find. Because of this, time can be wasted while you leave a ton of items behind.
The boss battles are a thing of beauty. Finding sea worms and other creatures in small arenas can be tough and exciting, and this is definitely where all the work you have put in to get to the different areas comes to fruition. Even though some of the mechanics to this point are spotty at times, it all becomes worth it when you enter these fights or make a major discovery.
Graphically, Shinsekai: Into the Depths looks good, not great. Being a phone port, that is understandable, but it definitely made me wish there was a bit more here to add to what could have been some really stunning visuals. Regardless, nothing here looks bad, and the soundtrack adds the right kind of mix of action and spooky themes that allow for a total package that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths really shows that you can’t assume a mobile port will be a subpar experience. Even with the tedious resource gathering and rough fall damage, this is a great Metroidvania that will surprise with how well it presents underwater platforming and exploration for a 2D experience.