Released last year on Steam, Subsurface Circular from Mike Bithell Games was a small title that still managed to grab some attention. The game bills itself as a text-based adventure game — which is true — but unlike the MUDs of old it at least comes with a visual interface to keep things interesting. The meat of the game thus lies in the narrative, and in that regard, it excels. While there is nothing particularly mind-blowing here, its philosophical questions and moral quandary left me thinking about the game for several days after beating it. This is an understated game that is deceptively simple in both execution and design, and yet it has a more impactful story than most other games you will play this year.
To be fair, calling Subsurface Circular a “game” may be a little generous. The core gameplay is essentially a stripped down version of The Telltale Games or Life is Strange formula. You, a robot detective unable to leave his seat on an underground train, must solve a mystery by only questioning the other robots who come and go from the train. You accomplish this by following text trees with each other robot until you hit upon “focus points”, which you then question other robots about. It is essentially an exercise in finding the right dialogue option (you have unlimited tries to find it) to progress the story, and then rinse and repeat. Fortunately, the story is compelling enough to push you through the minimal gameplay elements.
There are also occasional puzzles thrown in which range from telling a robot how many stops they have to go before getting off to logic puzzles. Even the hardest puzzles won’t tax you for long (one might require some scratch paper to write on), and things move along quickly. I only encountered one puzzle in the game where I figured out the answer relatively quickly but was unable to determine what the game wanted me to do with the information. It only occurred the one time, thankfully, and was resolved by simply going through every dialogue option with every robot around me. For the majority of the puzzles and dialogue trees, it is easy to determine what you should be doing, and that one was an extreme exception.
It took me about an hour and a half to complete a playthrough of Subsurface Circular, and sadly there is not much variety in the game to encourage replays. With the exception of one (quite difficult) choice at the end of the game, the story is linear and does not seem to change. A developers commentary track does unlock after beating it once, and I found it be insightful enough to carry me through a second playthrough. The graphics for Subsurface Circular are clean and add some character to the game, but certainly nothing you will show off. There is a nice touch in the Nintendo Switch version of the game where the motion controls adjust your camera angle, although it does not make a difference to the gameplay.
Subsurface Circular Nintendo Switch Review Final Thoughts:
Subsurface Circular is a short game that fortunately is priced accordingly. At $5.99 on the Nintendo Switch, it is an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to play an enjoyable, thought-provoking game that will not outstay its welcome. A better reason to return would help in the replay value but at the small price point to get what you pay for. Subsurface Circular is worth giving a shot for when you’ll have an hour or two to spare. There are certainly much worse ways to spend six dollars, and Subsurface Circular gives you a good value for your money.
Subsurface Circular on Nintendo Switch
- Graphics are clean, but spartan.
- Story is subtle and thought-provoking.
- Does not always go the way you expect it will.
- Insightful developer commentary for hopeful game designers.
- Some of the puzzles feel like busywork.
- Lack of replay value.
- Occasionally not clear on how to advance the story.