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Subsurface Circular Review: Hi-Tek Detective

Subsurface Circular is an intriguing twist on adventure games from Bithell Games, the team behind games like Volume and Thomas Was Alone. At first glance, it may seem like just another science fiction-infused adventure with tired tropes, but a closer look reveals some intriguing design decisions that you'll appreciate even more as the game wears on. It's a short but sweet experience, certainly appropriate for the Switch and the games of its cadre, so the move to Nintendo's handheld console was a smart one for Bithell Games to begin with.

Riding On the Metro

You'll take on the role of a robot named Tek when you start off the game. From there, it's a little tough to deduce exactly how things are going to play out, understandably so. But that's part of what makes the ride so exciting. As Tek, you're riding the titular Subsurface Circular underground train. You happen to be a detective who's looking to get to the bottom of some mysterious Tek robots who have up and vanished. You can't leave the train, and can only wander around the passenger cars questioning the other robots on board.

Luckily, the Tek characters are a lively crew. You'll find working class bots from every corner of the world, and they're all extremely interesting and personable. That's a good thing, especially because you're going to have to talk to them. A lot. You'd be forgiven for thinking that they're all the same since they're a bunch of robots chilling out on a train, right? That couldn't be further from the truth.

Each Tek robot has their own way of speaking due to their programming and other aspects of their manufacture. Because of this chatting with each one is a new and different routine, and a delight, especially due to the game's interface and method of input, especially on Switch. As you get to know the train's passengers, you end up learning a lot about the world around you.

As it turns out, there's a rift opening up between humans and Teks (big surprise there), and there's even something of a terrorist organization hard at work looking to totally divide the two groups. It's up to you, using the information gleaned from the other bots out there, to figure out what's going on. Throughout the two-hour story, you'll hungrily devour minute after minute of witty conversations as you hurtle toward the conclusion. It's a bite-sized experience meant to be devoured in one sitting, and it totally works.

Puzzle It Out

Subsurface Circular is mostly text-based, despite the fact that you'll be wandering around the train talking to different Tek bots. The minimalistic 3D environment ensures there's not much wandering to do, but that's fine -- you'll be talking to advance the story, anyway.

If you end up having some issues trying to get ahead in the game, you'll be awarded "Focus Points" to try and turn things around. This lets you use special phrases that were uttered during convesations to help advance in others. They'll help you proceed through and figure out some of the puzzle answers so you can make headway in the already annotated game.

There are only two endings you can arrive at despite the seemingly branching dialogue, but the climax and twists peppered throughout are still enjoyable, enough so that you're propelled through to the end despite the overarching linearity of the narrative.

Switching it Up

As far as what the Switch version of the game offers, the HD Rumble support as well as how great everything translates to the handheld are obvious boons. It's only a few bucks to pick up, and it's a quick weeknight play if you're looking for something engrossing to keep you glued to your Switch for the evening.

Subsurface Circular is one of the most unique games available for the Switch right now, and this iteration feels right at home on the console. If you're looking for something that's a little off the beaten path to add to your burgeoning Switch collection, you can't go wrong with this one, even if it is on the shorter side. 


This review is based on a Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher. Subsurface Circular is available in digital stores now for $5.99. 

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Subsurface Circular

8
very good
  • Sleek interface and polished design.
  • Intriguing storyline with interesting dialogue.
  • Great concept.
  • Engaging until the very end.
  • A bit simplistic in some respects.
  • Very short experience.