The term “walking simulator” often has a negative connotation. An argument that was first brought to my attention back in 2012 when TotalBiscuit made a video about Dear Esther. However, in 2021, they seem to have cemented their place in the gaming industry. Indie darlings like Firewatch or Gone Home and AAA titles like 2019’s Death Stranding proved to some that the genre could be enjoyable. Sea of Solitude The Director’s Cut brings a previously released walking simulator to the Nintendo Switch; boasting some striking visuals and dealing with some dark themes, this game is not for the faint-hearted.
Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cut is available on Nintendo Switch for your regional pricing.
Story – Dark and Depressing
The game begins with our protagonist, Kay, curled up on a ship, seemingly turned into a monster. These black shadowy monsters are manifestations of one’s negative emotions. You set sail on your small boat to explore a sunken city. As you explore, you’re given glimpses into Kay’s life before the flood. Hearing little snippets of happy times with her friends and families. However, the game doesn’t shy away from dark themes, exploring emotions of regret, resentment, and self-loathing. You slowly discover the things haunting your family members, which are represented by corrupted animals of some sort.
There is a constant battle between peace and chaos. One minute you’re experiencing a conversation between Kay’s parents when they first met, the next you’re slowly creeping through a school as you hear your younger brother getting bullied at school. Discovering the hardships of the people closest to Kay was as interesting as it was disturbing. There is a perfect balance between light and dark here. The subject matter is heavy, and while I genuinely felt uncomfortable playing Sea of Solitude, the moments of respite while sailing with blue skies gave me a well-needed break from the bleakness of the rest of the experience.
Gameplay – Nothing spectacular
I wasn’t expecting much from a gameplay perspective. The majority of my four or so hours were spent sailing from one building to the next, with some light platforming. Controlling the boat felt good; there’s not much precision required throughout, so it was never put to the test.
Where the game slightly falters is in the on-foot controls. They felt somewhat sluggish and unresponsive, and I’m not entirely sure if it was an issue with the frame drops or if it is just how it feels to play. While there is only a bit of little platforming, it always felt like there was a slight delay in my inputs.
You will mostly be navigating areas to rid them of corruption. Usually, this is done by shooting a flair, which leads you to your objective, finding a corrupted spot then holding ZR until you clear it. I have to commend Jo-Mei for implementing the flair as it ensured I never felt lost while exploring.
There is no combat to speak of. The main danger comes from the sea monster that stalks you on your adventure. When there is no light, a red-eyed creature will chase you if you touch the water, giving these sections a certain level of tension that distracts from the otherwise basic gameplay. It wasn’t often that I would suffer frustrating deaths; however, there were a few times where the water levels would rise while I was on a platform and the game would register that I was in the water and I would get attacked.
For side objectives, you have two options; find messages in bottles that will play a small audio log, which gives you a glimpse into Kay’s life, and to shoo seagulls, who then will follow you as you sail. While I didn’t care for collecting the seagulls, I loved listening to the audio logs.
Being a Switch port of an already released title, all eyes are on the framerate. Unfortunately, it’s not too positive. I was fooled at the beginning with fairly consistent framerate even when sailing the open seas, which I thought was the reason for poor performance. Where the game falters with performance are certain sections where the sea parts, which absolutely tanks the framerate. In these moments, the game was extremely unresponsive and felt terrible to play. Luckily these moments didn’t happen all too often and most of the time the game ran at a borderline acceptable framerate.
Graphics and Audio – Choppy framerates
Where the game shines is its art style. I could notice the game being slightly blurry, but the vibrant colours covered this problem up. When sailing with the seagulls flying above you as you passing through a city, the game looks phenomenal. If you want a sharper image, you can turn up the TAA which makes the lines more defined; however, I left it at the default setting as I thought it looked the nicest. The contrast of light and dark, navigating through a bright seaside town one minute, then exploring a dimly lit school filled with shadowy creatures was striking. Even on the 720p screen of the Switch, the game looks beautiful.
The music lends itself well to the overall feeling the game is trying to achieve. The soft piano tones as you explore the bright world is truly amazing. There is a sense of foreboding in the tracks when discovering many of the trials and tribulations of your family members, and it enhanced the dread I felt in these moments. When sailing, there was a great sense of calmness; this was only elevated by the sound. Wind rushing past you, seagulls flying overhead and peaceful music created a great atmosphere.
The voice acting is well delivered and oftentimes disturbing when you delve into the deeper parts of the narrative. Each line is as impactful as the previous. From the short snippets, they create extremely believable characters even though they are rarely on screen.
Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cut was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, with a code provided by B/HI.