Codename: Ocean Keeper Puts Players Deep Into the Briny Depths With One Objective: Survive

There’s always something devilishly sneaky and satisfying with roguelites. Sure, you’ll bang your head against a wall over and over and over in an attempt at maximizing a playthrough, but boy golly, is it an amazing feeling to push further ahead. Bit by bit, enemy by enemy, and upgrade by upgrade do we uncover more game to explore and master. RetroStyle Games’ upcoming title, Codename: Ocean Keeper, delivers this exact type of experience, one of supremely satisfying victories and devastating losses.

I was lucky enough to give Codename: Ocean Keeper’s demo a solid playthrough and I immediately noticed a few things: first, it was addictive (always a great sign for roguelites), and secondly, I was losing track of time playing it. The more I kept starting up new runs the more I was learning how to maximize the intricacies of its combat, exploration, and upgrade systems. Easy to learn with a great amount of depth, Codename: Ocean Keeper nails each of the genres it meshes together.

Codename: Ocean Keeper Is a Genre-Mashing Action Experience

The objective of Codename: Ocean Keeper is simple: survive wave after wave of enemy forces deep beneath the surface of the sea. While half of the game consists of tense twin-stick shooter action, the other half of Ocean Keeper is dedicated to subterranean exploration. It’s during these exploration phases that players are able to collect crystals and spend them to upgrade their diver, their mech, and the different weapons at their disposal. By balancing split-second decision-making during enemy waves and high risk, high reward payoffs during the exploration portions, Codename: Ocean Keeper delivers a rewarding, yet fraught action experience.

Codename: Ocean Keeper Demands Equal Parts Shooting Finesse and Upgrade Management

Hitting Start immediately drops the player onto the ocean floor, two visible cave entrances within walking distance. As your mech is painfully slow at the beginning of every run, choosing the entrance nearest to you is the safest bet. Upon entering each cave that can be found across the ocean floor, the perspective of the game switches from an isometric view to a fully 2-D perspective. Here, the diver is controlled directly as they break their way through blocks of stone. Breaking blocks is as simple as moving into them. As blocks are broken, the field of view expands, with blocks containing upgrade crystals appearing as progress is made. Some blocks take more bumps to break than others which creates a dilemma with each dive: do you chalk a cave up as a loss if you can’t quickly find crystals or do you decide to press on, hoping to find a large crystal deposit deeper down?

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When collecting crystals, the diver tethers each crystal to themselves and then must carry them to the cave entrance where they can be scored. The more crystals you carry, the slower you’ll move back to the top. Collecting crystals allows you to upgrade parameters such as diver speed, drill power, and how encumbered the diver becomes as they carry larger loads of crystals. You can also upgrade your mechs speed and its total health. Weapon’s damage outputs and speed in which they swivel around your mech can be upgraded, as well. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across an ancient artifact that can instantly grant you a special secondary weapon or instant upgrade.

Oh, and don’t take too long exploring each cave as you only have about a minute to do so. Once the timer hits zero the enemy waves begin approaching and you’ll face a hasty Game Over if you take too long to return to your mech. This is where Ocean Keeper truly comes alive as all of the decision making that you perform in the caves and spending upgrade crystals will pay off or not.

Combat is typical twin-stick fare. AWSD moves your mech in any direction while moving the mouse swivels your weapons 360 degrees. Your weapons can auto attack enemies within their radius at a steady rate, or you can hold down the attack button which increases your rate of fire, but at the cost of a dramatically reduced attack radius. Enemy waves spawn all around you and last until every enemy is defeated. Enemies consist of small one-hit bugs to tougher and faster rolling snake creatures, acid-spitting burrowers to larger tank-like crustaceans. Each wave brings harder and more numerous enemies, with bosses peppered in for good measure.

Every action taken during a run matters. How many seconds you spend exploring a cave, whether you choose to abandon a cave early or not, ending enemy wave encounters close to an unexplored cave, and which upgrades to choose in which order all immediate consequences. Every decision impacts the following wave. This isn’t even taking into account how you fare in battle. Did your gamble pay off and you were able to push your way through a wave to get to the next cave, or did you wind up having your health bar evaporate in seconds because you underestimated how many enemies were coming from off screen?

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Luckily, a special currency is earned simply by drilling through blocks that can be cashed in at the main menu for permanent upgrades to your mech. This makes subsequent runs easier and prevents failed runs from feeling like a waste of time. Of course, I wasn’t able to dive into this section of the game due to only having access to a demo, but I was still able to explore the options and see what’s in store for me in the full release.

Codename: Ocean Keeper is Atmospheric, Tense, and Oppressive

There are two primary screens players will see in Ocean Keeper: the ocean floor and the caves. The ocean is fittingly blue and spacious, with plenty of sea life and aquatic organisms populating the world around your mech. Vast trenches and large stone reefs form the barriers for the ground players can explore. Enemy variety is small, but effective (considering early runs won’t last very long this isn’t really an issue.) Ripple effects, bubbles floating by, and weapons effects have simple, but nice detail that accurately conveys the pale blue atmosphere of the deep ocean.

The cave screens are straightforward in their design which helps keep things easy to see and understand. Before long, you’ll be able to identify which rock walls are sturdier than others, which will help you make informed decisions in exploration. Aside from some light play and the colored crystals lodged in the rock, however, there is little to see in the cave screens.

Music in Ocean Keeper is also relegated to two tracks, one for exploration and one for combat. Sufficiently moody and atmospheric, the music does a fantastic job at creating a sense of quiet isolation during exploration. The combat music has got some bumps to it which lends dire urgency to the waves of enemies that attack. It’s nothing you’ll find yourself humming during the day, but it works well during the course of the game.

With a Plethora of Upgrades Available, Codename: Ocean Keeper Promises Plenty of Replayability

Ocean Keeper’s strength lies in the possible optimization of each run, tempered by the random elements of what each cave will hold. Even if you find a solid path of upgrade progression, getting stuck with caves that have nothing but sturdy walls and few crystals can throw any plan out of the window. Even though the ocean floor itself is laid out the same every run, never knowing what to expect in each cave, as well as never knowing which direction enemies will spawn, makes each playthrough unique and exciting.

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By the time I hit an hour of gameplay I was learning how to best optimize my movements through the caves, which upgrades took precedent over others, and how to maximize my movement during battles. Every death made me reevaluate my actions, inspiring me to change my next attempt juuust a little differently to see how much better I’d fare. In this regard, Ocean Keeper has an immense amount of replayability, especially considering how the permanent upgrades can slowly make runs more manageable.

Codename: Ocean Keeper is a Solid and Addictive Roguelite Shooter For the Thinking Player

Codename: Ocean Keeper fused twin-stick action with 2D exploration and stuck the landing well. The action was engaging and the exploration segments invited nuanced decision-making that imparted direct changes to the combat experiences. With equal parts strategy, reflexes, and luck, Ocean Keeper is a fun and engaging roguelite with a cool aquatic theme.

I would love to see extra maps, mechs, and to hear some different music in the final release of the game. There’s always unlockables and DLC packs for such things, of course. As it stands now having spent time with its demo, Codename: Ocean Keeper is a straightforward title with an emphasis on its gameplay. This may not be a great fit for those looking for a narrative-heavy experience, but for those interested in mastering its gameplay, there is a ton of content to enjoy with Ocean Keeper.

The demo for Codename: Ocean Keeper is available now on Steam. Be sure to Wishlist it if you enjoy it!

Game: Codename: Ocean Keeper

Developer: RetroStyle Games

Release Date: To Be Announced

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