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You’re overworked and underpaid, with a desk littered with TPS reports and a bright red stapler. Your girlfriend cheated on you and you’re miserable—until a pop-up on your work computer lets you know that you’ve won a fabulous tropical vacation! Naturally, this ends up being a series of narrow shark, sea urchin, and giant squid escapes as you deep sea dive your way to treasure and assorted errands like retrieving an old dive shop owner’s sunken exercise tape. But that makes a better game than lying on a beach anyhow. You may have missed The Deep when it first came out, but like most hidden treasures, it’s held its value beautifully.
Each deep sea diving spot has an open-ended 2D map with that familiar and beloved Castlevania: Symphony of the Night feeling. At each spot, which will gradually open up on your world map after completing a variety of objectives, you’ll find treasure, items, and portals to other linked maps. Underwater, you’ll manipulate a series of different-color levers to open their corresponding doors. Keeping track of which objectives I needed to accomplish in each zone, then backtracking to progress further to my goals, reminded me of Metroid in all the right ways. I instinctively reached for graph paper and a pencil to track the pathways, that’s how old school this felt.
You’ll control your nameless diver with a facsimile of an analog stick, which appears on the lower left-hand corner of your iPhone. Though clutch, jerking movements can be difficult when enemies come into close contact, the controls feel natural and responsive. Later on, you’ll pick up upgrades like the harpoon gun, which require simply button tapping on the lower left of your screen. This all works together very smoothly.
Collecting treasure underwater will enable you to buy upgrades at the dive shop on shore, which will help you move faster, light up the area around you, and ‘splode rocks—just to name a few. You can also increase your oxygen capacity, which is tied directly to your health. Get hit by an enemy, and you’ll lose a bit of oxygen. Swim up to sea level (the water lightens up beautifully as you swim towards the surface) and your oxygen will fill up as soon as you break the surface. Naturally, the more you stay under, the more you oxygen will deplete, so you’ll need to balance deep-sea exploration with just how much your lungs can take.
The hand-drawn look of The Deep is definitely unique. Goofy, off-their-meds starfish give you wistful/intimidating looks from their reef perches, and mutated fish descendants of The Simpsons’ Blinky roam the depths. The background and foregrounds of each level are densely populated with unique illustrations, which can be a bit busy. Overall, though, I’m thrilled by the monumental scenery, which has a scope that would be fully at home in a bigger-budget Xbox Live/PlayStation Network/WiiWare title. In which other iPhone game can you fully traverse a multi-level underwater Mayan pyramid?
Even after putting The Deep to bed, I kept returning to prod the edges of the ocean, searching for secrets I had missed or stealing one more glimpse at a shark so dorky that had it been the one to fight Richard Dreyfuss, they could have subdued it by throwing a graphic calculator overboard. You won’t regret spending your four bucks on this instead of getting 80% of the way to owning a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal.
May 27, 2010