Release Date: April 11th 2018
Price as of Article: $4.49 USD, £4.49 GBP
I have to admit, when faced with the huge abundance of potential games to review, Deep Ones instantly stood out from the crowd. Its visual style harkening back to ZX Spectrum games of old had me intrigued. I mean, I didn’t think it would be good. Its publisher has a less than stellar track record on the Switch, plus it has a price tag that instantly means they don’t particularly have confidence in it. But with an open mind I went in.
The story is quite minimalistic as you’d expect from a small, retro inspired game. You are piloting your small submarine, minding your own business when your ship gets goo-ed up by an unknown green substance. As you step out in your diving gear, brush in hand, your submarine is taken by a giant unknown sea monster, leaving you flying off and to the seabed. Without much more explanation or dialogue, you set off on an adventure on the bottom of the ocean. I know it’s retro and simple, but I would have preferred something a little bit more to push me a long with the adventure. There are some sort of cutscenes here and there and even a bit of dialogue later in the game, but it could have done with being throughout it.
The audio isn’t quite in line with the looks of the game. Sadly it’s not a retro-authentic soundtrack as you may hope, especially considering the ZX Spectrum really did have its own chip tune feel to it. Instead we have a more ambient, atmospheric soundtrack that supports the underwater theme very well. In that regard it’s a little less noticeable than I would have liked but I can’t complain because it’s genuinely not a bad effort.
Visuals & Performance
As you will have gathered by now, the visuals are rather striking. It’s what drew me to the game in the first place. I wasn’t around when the ZX Spectrum was in many a British home but I’m a sucker for something a bit different. Usually retro games head straight to the NES for their visual comfort zone so it’s nice to see a game head in a different retro direction. The distinct colours of the cyans and magentas is surprisingly nice and simple. I’m sure it’s a bit too simple for some, but it’s better than having the same old retro visual style, right?
I honestly like it. It’s a bit dark at times, sometimes so much that you can’t see the next ledge you’re supposed to jump to. I do like the way the plants light up the environments in their different colours. I’m surprised at how much I can appreciate something so simple. Later on it gets more ambitious with its backgrounds with shipwrecks and stuff and I can see a nice bit of work went into this aspect.
The gameplay is rather basic. You move around the 2D environments jumping over gaps and enemies with the A button, and that’s about it for the first part of the game. Very soon though, you’ll pick up a gun which you’ll need to defeat enemies with Y.
What will instantly hit you about the gameplay is just how slow it is. You’re underwater, sure, but your jump is meagre at best and your gun takes an absolute age to shoot a second bullet. It’s borderline painful. Not only that, but you can’t even shoot while jumping which is an incredible annoyance when enemies are generally on different levels to you. The mechanics just don’t feel right from the off.
It’s 3 hits and you’re dead. Thankfully checkpoints are nicely frequent which also replenish your life as well as provide your revival location after you inevitably perish, usually from misjudging a jump. The platforming is one of those games where you swear on your life that you pressed jump at the perfect time, but end up just walking off the cliff instead and looking like a complete idiot. It’s definitely retro, but in the wrong way this time.
There is a bit of change up in the gameplay department. You’ll be fighting a few bosses like a school of sharks or a pirate king and while the game’s heart is in the right place, these boss fights end up more of an exercise in patience rather than adding to the game. They’re slow and the clunky controls make them the tougher parts of the game. If you die, you have to do it all from the beginning. Fair enough, but when it’s this slow and takes so long to actually get to the action, you struggle for motivation to rally and do it correctly next time.
Later on you’ll get the chance to ride a seahorse in a shooter kind of genre, as well as switching your gun for a cutlass and a dash, which as you’d imagine, makes things worse in the combat department.
As far as level design goes it’s a completely mixed bag. Some times there are nice, well laid out platforming sections with some nice hopping on popping bubbles, or between manta-rays; simple, standard, but enjoyable stuff. But then the game decides to blow your brains with boredom by pressing forward to walk 15 minutes as you spam your gun to take out the easy enemies, it’s genuinely uninspired at times.
Value-wise you’re looking at a cheap $4.49 and £4.49, so it’s on the cheaper end of things and for a couple of hours gameplay, I think it was pretty well judged, even if I still don’t think its quality indicates a purchase. It’s one of those games that you’ll probably buy on a whim, Sunday afternoon, looking for something a bit different. And you know, if it’s on sale, it might be a cheap impulse buy.
Nice retro graphics
Painfully slow gameplay
Uninspired level design