Capcom has certainly been able to demonstrate great courage with Shinsekai Into the Depths. The famous submarine levels, especially for those with a videogame background born around the 90s, represent for many the absolute evil of level design. The idea of swimming underwater has always translated into frustration for slowed, inaccurate movements and the need to collect oxygen. Over time, these three dynamics have made many users hate this type of level. The Japanese software house on the other hand has decided to base an entire video game on it. A praise for courage.
The protagonist of Shinsekai is not in fact a skilled swimmer and, like all of us, he needs oxygen to be able to breathe. Started the game we find ourselves in front of one introductory sequence so sparse it cannot even represent a real pretext: the user's alter-ego, the last survivor of the human race following a sort of global Big Freeze, has found refuge under water, where the ice seems unable to reach it. Little unexpectedly, however, he is involved in a sort of avalanche. The ice takes possession of the dwelling, placing us in the situation of having to explore the seabed without a precise destination.
This is the very little information given to the player at the beginning of the adventure. This choice will prove to be more than appropriate given the dark, reflective and sometimes claustrophobic tone that distinguishes this production.
Switch is the best friend of mobile gaming
Shinsekai Into the Depths is not a Nintendo Switch exclusive. The title was developed specifically for Apple Arcade and launched on the market last fall. In fact it is a mobile title. This, once again, puts Switch in the convenient position of being the reference platform for all those publishers, accustomed to launching their products on the smartphone market, willing to approach a specific type of video game even on consoles. However, this does not mean that these titles should be judged by the yardstick that is usually used by analyzing an iOS or Android software.
Graphically the title is pleasant, but clearly shows the side to all the limits due to its origins. The textures are almost never well defined and, despite a more than satisfactory resolution, the image is often dirty. Animations take care of the production on a merely technical level. The protagonist moves in a realistic way and every interaction with the environment, whether scripted or not, is reproduced through fluid animations and extraordinarily successful. Same speech also for the enemies and all the actors of the adventure.
In general, therefore, one cannot speak of an unsuccessful technical sector, also in light of a convincing sound design in knowing how to reproduce the feeling of actually being submerged by countless tons of water. To be disappointing is the choice of the color palette used within gaming environments. In Shinsekai you do not live a happy and carefree adventure but a little liveliness in the colors, especially in the backgrounds of the various levels, would certainly have made the exploration more satisfying and would have made the feeling of repetitiveness that the title arouses after several hours of play.
The centerpiece of Shinsekai
The exploration is the fulcrum of the entire experience proposed by the Capcom title. In order to fully probe the seabed, our protagonist is linked to various environmental disturbance factors, which can be overcome through the achievement of key events or through enhancement. First of all, there is a need to let our diver breathe. In fact, the player has several oxygen cylinders available, which also represent the explorer's life bar, being able to damage and break definitively. Cylinders can be replaced, repaired or refilled in special points scattered around the map (including checkpoints or safe areas without water). In addition to the task of oxygen, there are also several environmental obstacles located in strategic points on the map. To overcome them it is necessary to obtain adequate equipment. Finally there is the biggest enemy present in Shinsekai: the pressure. Descending into the depths, the pressure will increase. The areas in which it is too high to bear it are represented with a red color. By enhancing the suit it is possible to increase the resistance and therefore also the quantities of freely explorable areas.
But how do you upgrade the equipment? Simple: collecting materials. Throughout the game environment, minerals or plants are scattered, capable of being reused to increase the effectiveness of the suit, as well as the weapons and equipment available to the player. To help the user in the collection we think a small drone, unlockable immediately after the very first initial sequences. Our little helper is able to identify and reach some otherwise inaccessible resources. Here another major defect of the title arises, namely the little readability of the interface. What to empower and how it is not clear right away. The crafting system is however explained to the player but is still not very intuitive in the type of materials to be used. In short, if you are not careful you risk collecting resources at random or using them in the wrong way. The advice is to focus a lot on the minimap, which gives an indication (after analyzing the area surrounding the player) of the position of the basic raw materials to continue exploring.
The drone also acts as a narrative device for the continuation of the story. However, it will not be the only one, on the contrary, the game could pleasantly surprise you with the surprises and enrichments in the gameplay that can be unlocked with the passing of the hours. In fact, the robot indicates to the player the points of interest of the map to be reached, managing to give a certain balance to a gameplay that would otherwise lean towards a senseless exploration without any motivation. In this context, full of things to do - which risk becoming repetitive anyway - one soon forgets to be underwater. Fortunately, this translates into the total absence of that unpleasant feeling of having to race against time in order to find oxygen sources to survive. Therefore, applause should be given to the Shinsekai level designers for having dealt with the greatest problems due to the choice of the underwater setting. The charging points are many and well indicated. We hardly find ourselves dry oxygen.
Combat system, the great absentee
Living an entire adventure underwater does not only mean what has just been described. The developers also had to model a movement system capable of reproducing the lack of confidence in an environment hostile to humans. The protagonist is slow, clumsy, heavy. However, it is possible to move more quickly thanks to the help of the propellers of the suit, which however, in case of reaching high speeds, could damage the oxygen cylinders in our possession. In short, the control system is deep and complicated. It can certainly be frustrating, but once mastered it gives different satisfactions.
The same cannot be said for the combat system. Up to now I have not mentioned the presence of enemies. Maybe because I would like to forget it. Creatures hostile to us are not badly reproduced. They are varied and some of them surprisingly intelligent. Even the mechanics related to them are not that bad. Just think that, for example, in order to get around sharks, the player can use some diversions such as to illuminate jellyfish to distract the predator's interest from our passage. The problem is the combat system, which in fact does not exist. The last survivor of the human race has a simple melee attack, that's enough. End. All the rest is based on using the same tools useful for exploration. Yes, fish can be harpooned, but everything is extremely inaccurate. The bosses, on the other hand, are well integrated and fun enough to deal with, net of the critical issues due to the very limited combat possibilities in the game.
Shinsekai Into the Depths is definitely a successful product. Combining exploration, the resolution of never trivial environmental puzzles (I repeat, perhaps a little repetitive) and a well-balanced level design all in all gave Capcom the opportunity to publish a really interesting title. More could have been achieved by converting from Apple Arcade. The game too often shows the side of a technical sector not quite up to par. A shame given the possibilities that a concept and a similar setting can offer. The audio sector is absolutely enjoyable enough to screech when compared to what is perceived by the player's eyes. The legacy of the mobile version is also the interface, for which a much deeper work by port operators would have been desirable. The game is still, despite the flaws, able to speak to the player through a silent narrative, based on the discoveries that emerge continuing in the story and delving into the deep and dark meanders of the game world. However, the coarseness of the fighting is unforgivable.