“Tangaroa Deep” is the last of the “Main Festival” games to review. I’m not sure if I should venture into the “Back Garden” games, though a couple of them look quite intriguing. Anyway, “Tangaroa Deep” follows a scientific expedition down to the bottom of the ocean for the purpose of gathering deep-sea data; but of course, it’s not just plain exploration.
In this one, our hero is a scientist driving a sort of deep-sea diving bell, trying to observe marine wildlife as they plumb the depths of the ocean. Jackie, a colleague of our hero, is monitoring the exterior cameras and providing a sort of lifeline to the outside world. Much of the action takes place in the form of dialogue between Jackie and our hero as they explore the ocean, going deeper and deeper as they do.
The dialogue is well-written, and does a lot to add flavour to the story. Merely seeing the marine wildlife–reading their descriptions in our case–would be a lot less interesting without the commentary. It adds personality, “showing” rather than “telling” the enthusiasm surrounding the prospect of diving for science. The presentation also adds to the immersion (no pun intended) by gradually darkening the background as our hero goes deeper into the lightless ocean depths.
Getting right down to mechanics, the game is largely one of exploration. Much of the first half consists simply of travelling from one location to the next, with our hero bantering with Jackie over the observed wildlife. The format of the game consists of choice buttons, and usually the choices relate to directions in which to explore. Sections of the ocean are treated as rooms in the traditional parser-game mode, such that players have the freedom to visit and revisit places on their way down. Obviously, when our hero is in conversation, the choices relate to reactions and responses instead: in that sense, this is basic CYOA.
In the second half of the story, our hero discovers a trench in the ocean floor, and the opportunity to go even deeper than anyone ever thought possible. This is where the stakes get higher: the story ceases to be a sight-seeing tour and begins to be about pushing the limits in the name of scientific discovery. How far are we willing to go, and how much are we willing to risk? There is an interesting parallel between our hero’s adventures on the ocean floor and the story Jackie tells at one point about a Maori diver, the moral of which is, apparently, that even the best diver must come up for air at some point; or, perhaps, that the treasures of the deep come at a great price.
I think of this as something like a cold cuts platter. The format is simple, but the presentation superb. You browse and you nibble and you chat and you browse some more, and then suddenly you realise you’ve had too much pancetta and you really need a drink.