Developed by Uppercut Games, Submerged offers a unique experience.
Opening with a seemingly unconscious boy, Taku, and his sister, Miku, sailing into a foreboding submerged city, it isn’t long before Miku spots a clocktower that may be suitable to use as a camp. Harbouring their small boat before carrying her brother to a makeshift resting area, Miku is concerned about the rather large wound across Taku’s midriff and decides to go explore the local area to find something to stop it bleeding. It is with this selfless task that this brief adventure of mystery, exploration, and a young girl’s love for her brother begins.
Devoid of any combat or fail state, the gameplay in Submerged can be broken down into two distinct activities: sailing and climbing. Simple by design, both are stress free affairs, creating a unique blend of gameplay and allowing you to explore the city in a relaxed manner.
As the world you inhabit has seemingly been devoured by the sea, your boat is an essential asset as you seek out supplies to aid your brother, and luckily it’s a joy to use. Thanks to its small motor, it’s a nimble little vessel that feels satisfyingly weighty in motion, although it can be a little unwieldy when simultaneously turning and accelerating from a standstill. If you find that you want a bit more “oomph” your boat also has a limited amount of boost available too, and by salvaging abandoned boats that you find on your adventure you can increase the boost capacity, which is useful when you need to cover large distances fast. Navigating the city mainly requires your intuition to spot buildings that may have a vital supply crate located on them, and to assist you in this task you also have access to a handy telescope which enables you to see far in the distance. Locating collectibles and pickups with the telescope also adds a marker to an in-game map which is uncovered as you explore.
Areas where you can disembark from your boat are usually easy to identify by red flowers growing on ledges close to the water, and whilst small buildings often contain just an optional collectible to nab, taller structures offer you an opportunity to explore vertically. Containing the resources that young Miku needs to help her ailing brother, supply crates rest at the top of these large buildings requiring you to climb them in order to claim what’s inside. The act of climbing is a simple affair, in fact almost too simple, as all you need to use is your directional stick to move Miku where you want her to go; you don’t have to worry about jumping to grab ledges or pressing a button to pull yourself up. Each building plays out like a simple puzzle where you’ve got to work out the correct route to get to the top, and whilst this means they’re never too taxing on the grey matter, they do offer a nice excursion from sailing around the city in your boat. Once you’ve reached the top and obtained the invaluable supplies the game will cut to Miku aiding Taku before falling asleep, presenting you with a snippet of the games backstory in time for you to start the process anew the next day.
Not having to worry about dying or engaging in combat means the game is a soothing experience, free from any sense of danger or urgency. It doesn’t even matter which order you tackle the buildings in or how long it takes you to do them, you’re free to set your own pace and route through the game. Those that focus on just obtaining the contents of the 10 supply crates required to complete the main story will find that it probably consumes less than three hours of their time, but the large number of collectibles, boat upgrades, landmarks and creatures to find can increase the playtime by at least a few hours.
Visually it’s not the best looking game, with some shoddy textures, poor effects and unconvincing animation, but it does have a nice art style that draws you in and runs at a very stable framerate. Notably the game also features full day and night cycles as well as dynamic weather, making the desolate world feel slightly more alive. The star of the show though is the game’s soundtrack, which is simply sublime if not a little limited. Composed by Bafta award winner Jeff Van Dyck, each piano heavy track is lovingly crafted and suits the sombre tone of the game perfectly, but after a while the tracks are repeated so often that they lose a little of their magic.
It’s strange that I found the experience Submerged offers vaguely reminiscent of the highly regarded Shadow of Colossus, a comparison which many will consider veritable praise. Whilst Shadow of the Colossus has you travelling on horseback in search of gargantuan beasts, here, your trusty steed is your boat, and instead you’re searching for large constructions. The act of finally killing a colossus replaced with the opening of a supply crate. However, whilst it does offer a similarly unique and thought provoking experience, its basic gameplay means it never reaches the heady heights of Fumito Ueda’s epic adventure.
In the end, Submerged successfully achieves what it sets out to offer: a relaxing and thought provoking exploration experience. Its a game that’s rough around the edges but grabs you from the moment you start playing, drawing you in until you’ve reached the game’s somewhat predictable conclusion. The lack of danger and urgency in the game as well as its possibly over-simplified game mechanics will undoubtedly be a big turn-off for many, but those looking for something serene and out of the ordinary may be pleasantly surprised by this quirky little title.