I played a large number of text based adventure games on my first computer. Though, that was more due to the technology of the time rather than a creative choice the game developers made. We’ve moved on from glowing characters on a monitor to lifelike characters exploring huge 3D simulations of worlds that don’t yet exist. When Thomas was Alone creator Mike Bithell announced that he was starting a series of “Bithell Shorts” and that the first game was a text based adventure, the nostalgia excited me.
Subspace Circular tells the story of a future world where robotic Teks coexist with humans. They were created to do the jobs that humans wouldn’t, and they get around the city autonomously through the underground subway system that shares a name with the game. You play the part of a Detective Tek whose job is to sit on one of the subway cars and interact with the Teks that come and go, solving cases given to you by the management.
The writing is what sets this game apart from other narrative heavy titles I’ve played recently, and that is a good thing since it is a text based adventure. The whole of the game plays out in conversations you have with the other Teks who get on and off the subway cars. You pick a starting phrase from a list, they respond which brings you a new set of possible things to say. Do well with your conversations and you’ll unlock “focus points”, keywords that you can use in other conversations to progress the story. These conversations range from witty, to depressing, to awkward — all the while showing that each of these Teks has a different personality and reason for existing. You have choices on what to say, and I always knew what would forward the story, but there are enough snarky or angry replies you can give to see the writing shine.
I don’t really want to get into any specifics on how the story progresses, that would spoil the fun that you’ll find, but you’ll be exploring relationships, solving puzzles and using your detective skills to get the information you need from any stubborn Teks you come up against. The story is the star here, with the cool looking robots and visuals a distant second.
The one feature that really sets the Switch release apart from all of the other platforms is Subspace Circular’s use of HD Rumble. When I first loaded up the game and was checking out the option menus I noticed a quiet beep sound when paging through things. It took me a second to realize that this beep was coming from my JoyCon. It was subtle, but was cool as hell. When the main game started everything that the subway did was echoed by the HD Rumble.
The starting and stopping of the subway cars was felt though the controllers. The buzz of the huge fluorescent lights we passed came through as small wooshes. When the earphone clad Listener Teks sat down on the train you could actually feel the beat of the music they were listening to in your hands. All of these “sounds” could actually be felt moving through your hands while playing, echoing what was happening on the screen. None of this was distracting and eventually just faded into part of the experience. HD Rumble was a subtle addition to the Switch version, but it was something that I immediately missed when playing other titles.
Subsurface Circular is not a long game, you’ll be able to finish it in a couple of hours, but there really isn’t anything like it on the eShop. It’ll run you $5.99, which is a fair price to pay for such a unique and enjoyable title. Finishing the story unlocks director commentary, so there will be more to explore after completion if you so choose.
- The best use of HD Rumble I’ve seen on the Switch
- An amazing story told through interesting characters
- Clocks in around 2 hours
I played a digital copy of Subsurface Circular that was provided by PR. If you have any questions on our review scale please see our About page.