There was a fairly long stretch of time where it felt like every other game was a part of that unfortunately titled genre; the Metroidvania. While I have enjoyed a lot of these titles, I was happy to see the genre take a back seat when everything started to get played out. Now that those days are behind us, I’m happy to take a look at Shinsekai: Into the Depths a 2D, underwater Metroidvania from Capcom on the Nintendo Switch.
So Shinsekai has an interesting philosophy in its gameplay. The vast majority of the game is underwater with a rapidly decreasing store of oxygen, something the player desperately needs to live, so almost everything the player does is on a time limit. Personally, I was never a huge fan of the old Sonic bit where you had to desperately seek out air bubbles in confusing underwater labyrinths to avoid being a dead hedgehog, but it seems to be much less anxiety-inducing here. That is most likely because Shinsekaidoesn’t bombard the player with nerve-wracking music until said air can be greedily gulped up. No, Shinsekai is at all times an extremely chill situation. Yes, you might be seconds away from something horrible, but the calming meditative tunes and lush visuals are always a reassuring presence.
I mean it when I say the visuals here are lush. Everything in Shinsekai is absolutely gorgeous from the wavy plants you’ll be harvesting for resources to the nasty critters looking to crack open your air tanks and send you to a watery grave. That, with the unbelievably mellow sound design, keeps everything calm and somewhat magical. The laid-back reliance on exploration and discovery is very reminiscent of 2017’s Abzu but with a gun.
Essentially, Shinsekai is a game about exploration. After being chased from a cozy little rocket looking thing by encroaching jagged ice, the silent protagonist travels further and further down into the crushing, alien depths of the ocean finding various resources and helpful tools to aid their descent ever downward. At least, that’s what I think is going on. Shinsekai isn’t a huge fan of words most of the time, the protagonist may have just dropped their lucky coin down an unfortunately deep crack. What I do know for sure is that the player will go as deep as they can handle with a pick, a harpoon gun, and some nifty underwater boosters doing light crafting and dispatching mean sea critters until they can upgrade their pressure suit and delve even deeper into the unknown. There is a very helpful map and an always useful objective marker, but this ocean is full of twisting corridors and nefarious mazes, so you’ll bound for a lot of exploration.
One weird thing here is about its presentation. The whole game seems like it wants to be a wordless adventure in the mysterious waters, but every so often lengthy tutorials will pop up and ruin any sort of chill quiet vibes you might have had going on. Most of these tutorials are summarized in some cool stylish pictograms found in the world as well, which makes me think that the tutorials were a last-minute addition made because the developers didn’t think players were smart enough to figure out their elaborate hieroglyphics. Maybe they were right and we all are too dumb to understand what the happy pictures meant, but I would have liked to have seen them stick to their guns on this, or at least made the tutorials an optional nuisance rather than a must-have.
Other than that, I do have some real gripes about Shinsekai. The slow, (forgive the pun) floaty movement and controls really put me off. I felt like everything from movement to aiming my weapons was unreliable and imprecise. It made some puzzling absolutely frustrating and combat feel more like a chore than excitement. Also, the climbing mechanic never really clicked with me so I would grab onto a wall when I didn’t want to or flail uselessly against one when I wanted to ascend it.
Overall, Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a fun experience, but poor traversal in a game about exploration is a big hurdle to get over. The meditative music and beautiful visuals really are pretty outstanding though, and if you want something chill and pretty to look at then you definitely will find it here. Just try not to move around too much.