Just recently it was revealed that the follow-up to Submerged, the previous Google Stadia exclusive Submerged: Hidden Depths, was coming to other formats – Xbox, PlayStation and PC. Given the platform’s decline, this came as little surprise. Anyhow, I’ve been hands on via Xbox to see how the sequel to the original relaxplorathon is shaping up.

In Submerged: Hidden Depths you follow the siblings Miku and Taku as they explore a devastated sunken city, trying to restore light where it has been extinguished by the “Black Plant”. It’s long and winding tentacle network is referred to as “The Mass”, and Miku takes it upon herself to defeat it with the help of her brother.

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As luck would have it, Miku was gifted a mysterious power which allows her to retrieve seeds from various plants, and regenerate the natural beauty of the sunken world whilst eliminating the black plant in the process. Retrieving these seeds forms the campaign (if you can call it that) in Submerged: Hidden Depths. You can keep track of all you have collected and learned by reviewing your journal, which documents your personal history, as well as that of the city. The narrative casually and organically flows, with no push or prod to do things in a particular way.

Much like the original game, Submerged: Hidden Depths is built around the theme of relaxation, and it really shows. After a short sequence where you retrieve your first seed, you are then set free to explore the whole world in your small sailboat. You’re equipped with a map, journal and telescope before pretty much being left to it.

This approach immediately reminded of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and I got a little giddy with excitement at the freedom I had to explore. Gently riding the rolling waves as day turned to night was a serene way to explore the vast, chaotic waterworld which lay scattered all around me. The environment is diverse too, meaning you can pick out all sorts of interesting landmarks from a distance. 

There is a fair bit to find, such as boat upgrades, relics, lookout points, landmarks, journal entries and more which can be discovered by using your telescope to survey your surroundings. Your boat can boost its speed for a short time, which is elongated as you find more upgrade parts. Lighting the beacon at a lookout tower will also reveal nearby points of interest, as well as providing an excellent platform to scout for other goodies. You can fast travel between certain sites if you wish, once you have successfully obtained the seed from each. What helps, is that if you have found all the collectibles in an area, the game will tell you exactly that so you can safely move on. 

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Once again in Submerged: Hidden Depths there is no combat. That means no threat, and risks creating a world with little excitement. However, I was really impressed by how attractive the environments looked on the Xbox Series X, and how hauntingly beautiful the piano heavy soundtrack sounded. There was the occasional bit of lag, and it takes a while to load at times, however things ran smoothly on the whole. I’ve talked before about games which feel more like an experience than something you play, and this certainly falls into this category. I was hooked.

In the absence of combat, you will be scaling ruined buildings and solving fairly simple puzzles to progress. These include using your boat to pull down wooden bridges and safely transporting your seed back down a steep climb. You’ll play as both siblings intermittently, and they will automatically clear jumps, climb and shimmy along ledges which a certain prince would be proud of. This approach certainly takes the stress out of the platforming for the player. 

The camera works well too for the most part, zooming out at the opportune moments to present you with some beautiful backdrops as you explore. The “Postcard Mode” is made for such opportunities, which is essentially a basic but effective way to get some pretty pictures for your social feed. You can also move and pivot the camera whenever you like, which comes in handy as sometimes it feels fixed a little too close to the characters.

Personally, I found the simple exploratory gameplay matched the core aim to provide a relaxing experience, and I was utterly absorbed during my playthrough. This is a game which pretty much ticks all of my boxes as a gamer. I must say at this point, I only had an hour with Submerged: Hidden Depths but I very much enjoyed my time with it. I’m intrigued to see where the game takes me next.

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The original game came in for some criticism for featuring an empty world, with various performance issues diluting the experience. However, my first impressions with Hidden Depths are positive and it seems clear that Uppercut Games have listened and worked on improving things this time around. Despite this, in essence it’s very similar to its predecessor which won’t win those around who didn’t enjoy the “relaxploration” style of gameplay the first time around.

I know one thing for certain, I can’t wait to continue exploring the world of Submerged: Hidden Depths. 

Huge thanks go out to Uppercut Games for providing us early access to Submerged: Hidden Depths on Xbox. 

“Having originally developed Submerged: Hidden Depths for Google Stadia, it’s a new dawn for the game as we approach it’s PC and console release on 10th March.”, remarked Ed Orman, Co-founder of Uppercut Games “Our team has grown and learnt so much since creating Submerged, and then again when we started Submerged: Hidden Depths, so it’s great to be able to show the difference that learning has made to the game. Our vision stayed true, as has our desire to create that relaxing experience for players, but the quality and depth of our work has soared.”.

You’ll find the full game coming to Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation and PC soon. The Xbox Store will let you pre-order the game right now, ahead of the March 10th 2022, for £24.99. It’s got full Xbox Play Anywhere support too.

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