Sub Rebellion: An Underwater Adventure that Swam under the Radar


It’s no surprise to anyone who plays and collects older games that prices have been on the rise across the board. While the cost of buying older games has been steadily climbing for around a decade now, the pandemic forced many people to turn to hobbies they could enjoy while shut inside their homes, dramatically increasing the demand on the supply of old discs and cartridges and causing prices to jump—in some cases, even double.

Some of us with a love for old games but a limited budget for obtaining them have had to turn away from the established classics and start digging through the bargain bin, in search of those less-famous games that might hold just as much fun for $15 instead of $150.

And it just so happens that Racjin’s Sub Rebellion (known as U: Underwater Unit in Japan) is such a game. Released to little fanfare in the states for a mere $10 new (if what I’m reading on the internet is correct), it went more or less overlooked by well… everybody. A far cry from the lesser-known studio’s charming chibi graphics from games like Snowboard Kids, Final Fantasy Explorers, or their remake of Saga 2 on the Nintendo DS, Sub Rebellion puts you behind the wheel of a powerful experimental submarine. In the not-so-distant future, the world has suffered a cataclysmic earthquake, sinking the majority of dry land into the ocean.

With human society in shambles, new forces have arisen to battle for control of the seas. Your sub is the last-ditch hope of the Allied Forces, who are desperately losing the war against an evil empire.

While the story holds some interest for me, it’s told almost entirely through text dumps at the beginning and end of each level. So for those who’d prefer to just get right to shooting torpedoes, it’s generally easy to skip without much consequence.

Dive, Fight, and Explore

The core gameplay feels something like a cross between Starfox and Ecco: Defender of the Future. You’ll explore underwater environments all over the globe, fighting enemy subs but also searching for buried treasure left behind by an ancient civilization. Maneuvering your sub feels great and really gives you the sensation of underwater movement. You can steer the sub forward easily, but also quickly rise or dive through use of the shoulder buttons, which is invaluable when trying to escape enemy torpedoes. At some points in the game, you’ll need to surface to defeat foes in the air or on dry land, where your sub will transform and gain alternate forms of attack.

While you start out with only a basic set of weapons, finding hidden artifacts will allow you to unlock custom parts for your sub. You can pick between a variety of different guns and torpedoes, but also shields and engines that will change what kind of damage you’re resistant to and how your sub handles. Generally speaking, the newer items will be better, but most of the unlocked gear will have a niche use even later in the game.

When not in battle, you can use the sub’s radar to search for hidden foes or buried treasure. Pressing the button sends out a ping that displays a wireframe of everything in view, allowing you to see through walls and identify foes deep in murky waters. This is one of the more charming aspects of the game to me—even though it’s a small mechanic, it’s not something I’ve seen done before, and I found it very useful and even fun to ping the area around me and see what lies around a turn.

Always a Fresh Catch

While the core gameplay never changes, Sub Rebellion does a great job of never getting stale. Every mission is a little bit different, and you’ll fight in a wide variety of oceanic environments, from deep trenches, to tropical shallows, to ice-covered arctic waters and more. Boss fights are also widely varied. You might find yourself in a dogfight with another agile sub, shooting down a giant warplane straight out of some shoot-‘em-up, or struggling to survive against a giant monster. To me this variety is really what makes the game stand out—no part of the game feels like padding, and no two missions feel the same, meaning I never got bored of what I was doing.

The music in the game is also quite varied, and well used. Dreamy tracks that encapsulate what it’s like to explore a long-abandoned underwater ruin and harsh electronic tracks that prepare you for a hopeless-seeming battle all fit the mood of every moment in the game.

Oceans of Fun

I’d love to make this review seem less like an ad by coming up with something bad to say about the game, but the truth is that I really have no major complaints. I loved this game from start to finish, and I think I’m really likely to sit down and play through it again in the future.

I think for some people, the lack of cutscenes and all the story being delivered through text dumps might rub them the wrong way. Others might balk at the slower-paced combat compared to similar games. But me? I wouldn’t change a thing.

For those of you who have played all the PS2 classics and are looking for something worth your time that won’t cost you a fortune, I can’t recommend Sub Rebellion highly enough. The game masterfully balances it’s combat and explorations and manages to keep showing you something new with each and every level you play. It’s a real shame Racjin never made anything else quite like this; I would pick up a sequel in a heartbeat. For now though, I think I’ll likely have plenty of fun revisiting this great title every few years or so.

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