Submerged is a simple game in concept. The adventure begins with a young girl Miku and her brother Taku drifting on a small fishing boat into a city submerged in water, with foliage growing up around tall derelict buildings that protrude out of the water like giant monuments to a bygone era. You quickly find out that Taku is injured and it’s up to Miku to save him. As Miku you must find supply crates that were dropped into the city for its remaining survivors long ago by exploring the city by boat and by foot.
The story is presented via drawings that you unlock along the way which tell us why Taku and Miku are currently in this predicament. Outside of the main story, the game has over sixty collectibles to find that explain what happened to the city via the same type of hand-drawn pictures. Finding the pictures and unravelling the story is part of Submerged’s charm, though it turned out that finding out what happened to the world was far more interesting then the personal story between Taku and Miku.
Submerged differs to many modern titles in the sense it has no combat. The goal of the game is to simply find supplies to save your brother. Using your telescope you can search from afar for supply drops on the roofs of structures, which can also be located from the torn parachutes hanging from buildings. This is where Submerged’s simplistic gameplay also proves to also be the game’s main negative. As Miku you must scale these buildings (platform-style) to get to the supply drops. There isn’t any real thought needed to figure out how to climb the buildings as ledges pop out and are easily spotted thanks to trails of red flowers which clearly indicate where you need to go. There are also paths that split that lead to other collectibles, but it’s generally a linear path up and down multiple buildings. Rinse and repeat.
The other portion of the game has you navigating around the huge city in a small fishing boat. The boat controls well once you get used to it, but initially mastering the physics of the boat and the way it moves in the water can be a little frustrating. So, that’s Submerged. You drive around in a boat searching for collectibles and care packages, which are usually on the roofs of buildings, and then seek a path to its summit by ledge climbing. You drop the package off to your brother and then go back out in the boat again.
It’s all fairly simple stuff, though what’s here works well. However, I just wish there was more than one way to go about collecting supply drops rather than just scaling buildings over and over again for the four to six hours that the game takes to complete. What drove me on was the completionist inside me that was determined to find all the collectibles in the game and learn more about what happened to the world, while having a relatively fun time exploring some of city’s important landmarks.
Where the game truly shines is its music. Slow, melodic piano solos accompany you throughout your journey and fit the theme and setting of the world perfectly. Graphically the game looks best when riding your boat during the setting sun, but when getting up close to the buildings there’s plenty of flat textures, which remind you you’re playing a fairly low budget game by today’s standards.
It’s also worth pointing out the wildlife you encounter on your small fishing boat. Some of my favorite moments were seeing dolphins swimming next to me on my boat and a whale that constantly jumps out of the water and spouts water from its blowhole. These brief moments make the world feel alive and unscripted.
Submerged is definitely not a game for everyone. Its slow pace, repetitiveness and simple gameplay will probably turn off anyone looking for diversity, but it’s this simplicity – coupled with the soundtrack and unfolding story – that I actually rather enjoyed. Submerged puts you in the shoes of a young girl who goes to extremes in the attempt to save her brother in a believable and well-crafted world, but it’s a shame that the game doesn’t have enough variety in it to help it reach headier heights.