Video games owe much of their allure to the fact that they can spirit players away to strange and exciting environs with the touch of a button. In some games, it’s battle-ravaged alien planets at the edges of unknown galaxies; in others, it’s monolithic cities, vast, open expanses, or even fictionalized past or future versions of our own familiar world.
And sometimes, the surroundings into which players are thrust evoke a kind of primal fascination that comes from somewhere much, much deeper—literally.
Top 10 Underwater Games
Grab your harpoons and breathing apparatus as we dive into an overview of the best underwater video games ever conceived.
1. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Any discussion of subaquatic gaming adventures would be sorely incomplete without reference to the title that started it all, 1985’s ultra-mega-smash-hit Super Mario Bros.
Though most of the game takes place on the dry, pixelated land of the Mushroom Kingdom, the second level of World 2 sends players down an iconic green Warp Pipe and into an underwater danger zone, literally swimming with unfriendly squids and duck-lipped fish intent on bringing Mario’s noble quest to a screeching halt.
2. Bioshock (2007)
This award-winning first-person shooter puts players in control of amnesiac protagonist “Jack” as he descends deeper and deeper into the once-utopian underwater city of Rapture, where things have taken a sinister turn following the invention of a botched superhuman serum that’s transformed its residents into crazed, hyperviolent wackos.
Bioshock was an enormous critical and commercial success upon its release and eventually spawned a couple of sequels, one of which is also set below sea level.
3. Subnautica (2014)
Subnautica takes many salt-weathered stranded-at-sea tropes and drops them into the ocean of an alien world where players must scramble to gather resources, build operating bases, and avoid pissed off sea things with the aid of advanced submarine vehicles and gadgets.
If the idea of probing the mysterious depths of a virtually boundless underwater frontier gets your gills tingling, Subnautica is a can’t-miss experience.
4. Abzû (2016)
Abzû is the latest digital gem from the makers of 2012’s indie gaming opus Journey. In it, players assume the role of an anonymous deep-sea diver who, following the guidance of a shamanistic great white shark, sets out to restore balance and harmony to an endangered ocean.
Abzû places less emphasis on stereotypical action scenarios and more on wowing players with gorgeous cell-shaded visuals and stunning animations that depict the ocean as a unified organism whose preciousness and vitality must be protected at all costs.
5. SOMA (2015)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Frictional Games reaches up a monstrous tentacle and pulls you down into the murky deep with SOMA, a harrowing survival horror ordeal that plays like Dead Space with the bends.
In terms of gameplay and atmosphere, SOMA is heavily indebted to the aforementioned modern classic, as well as apparent influences like Bioshock and DOOM. Still, it manages to dredge up enough original style to have hydrophobic players shuddering the next time they walk past an aquarium.
6. Ecco the Dolphin (1992)
Devotees of the Sega Genesis will remember Ecco the Dolphin with warm nostalgia. This unique side-scroller was the first game ever to feature a marine animal as its protagonist, and in a more-or-less realistic manner, at that.
Ecco’s creators based the actions of its titular hero on the behaviors and abilities of real bottlenose dolphins. As a result, players were given the opportunity to navigate by echolocation, execute aesthetic breach flips, and ram giant octopi at breakneck speeds. How could a game like that not be destined to become a classic?
7. flOw (2006)
flOw is unlike any of the other games on this list, and really unlike any other game at all, thanks to its mesmerizingly minimalistic gameplay.
There are no menus, displays, or customizable inventories in flOw, nor is there any semblance of storyline or dialogue. As a strange, pseudo primordial sea creature, your sole purpose is to consume the other organisms around you, which causes you to increase in size. That’s it.
A soothing experience for players of all ages, flOw is like the video game equivalent of ASMR as imagined by the producers of “Blue Planet.”
8. Depth Hunter 2: Deep Dive (2014)
If you’re looking for a title that offers a happy medium between the pulse-pounding suspense of Bioshock and the chillaxed reverie of flOw, cast your net over the casual spearfishing jaunt that is Depth Hunter 2: Deep Dive.
Compared to other games, the stakes here seem almost quaint—there’s the occasional tense brush with predatory fish and the oxygen tank that’s never in any real danger of running out. Most of the fun comes from leisurely exploring vivid underwater environments, taking snapshots of interesting sights, and stumbling upon sunken treasures.
9. Song of the Deep (2016)
Song of the Deep is a heartwarming and visually delightful odyssey brought to you by the letter “E” and the developers of the original Ratchet & Clank.
Its simplistic plot revolves around a young girl’s search for her missing father, and its gameplay takes most of its cues from past Metroidvania-style platformers. While not exactly a groundbreaking release, there’s nothing not to like about Song of the Deep, from its touching ethos to the impressive scope of the caricatured world it weaves.
10. Barotrauma (2019)
The Davy Jones’ Locker isn’t just a moody backdrop in Undertow Games’ submarine sim Barotrauma—it’s actively trying to kill you.
Throughout the course of the game’s varied missions, the players comprising the vessel’s crew are called upon to perform critical maintenance tasks, collect research specimens, fend off hostile sea creatures, and attempt to uncover the identity of possible saboteurs, all while averting disaster in the form of structural collapse.
As you can imagine, this makes for some pretty exciting co-op exploits that capture the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a rapidly-deteriorating metal coffin many leagues below.
Other Underwater Games Worth Mentioning
The exceptional offerings highlighted here aren’t the only titles that have made waves in the video game world. Other standouts include:
- Beyond Blue
- Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep
- We Need to Go Deeper
(You might also be interested in knowing about Extreme Water Sports you’ve never heard of)
Underwater games have been fueling players’ infatuation with the unseen parts of the natural world for decades, and the realms they unlock have only become more immense and more wondrous in that time. As long as our appetite for exploration and adventure remains unsatiated, we can expect thoughtful developers to beckon us down deeper still.