Title: Song of the Deep
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Insomniac Games
Genre: action adventure
Official Site: insomniacgames.com/games/song-of-the-deep/
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Where to Buy: Xbox Live Store, PSN, Steam, Gamestop/EB Games retail stores
Song of the Deep propels you into a Celtic fairytale world beneath the waves . The picturesque visuals, fantastic music, and enchanting world draw you in constantly, but the gameplay cannot live up to the potential of the presentation.
Merryn is a young girl living alone with her father – a fisherman. One day he sets out in his small boat and never returns. So Merryn puts together a small submarine, clambers into the cockpit and launches herself into the vast ocean. The story is narrated by an Irish woman, who delivers the narrative in hushed tones as if she is reading the tale to children as they fall to sleep. These short bursts of the story in conjunction with the beautifully drawn characters flitting across the screen portray the story effectively. And the inclusion of a narrator means that cut scenes are few and far between, putting more focus on the tasks at hand.
But after the story is introduced and Merryn is moving swiftly through the emerald water, the visuals will make you stop and take in the beauty of the world. It’s simultaneously alien and familiar as you explore perilous caverns patrolled by sentry crabs, coral reefs lined with ancient traps, and the ruins of long lost cities.
The hand drawn visuals make every new rock formation or expanse of shimmering ocean pop off the screen. The submarine gently floats through environments, solving puzzles and finding clues to track down Merryn’s father.
There are plenty of unique and varied environments to explore, each feeling much different than the last. Dark trenches are drenched in a feeling of isolation, while the eroding pillars of forgotten cities are bathed in a warm glow as light flits through the waves. Everything is tied together by the common theme of the ocean, feeling like it’s part of the same world, but is diverse enough to keep things fresh.
As beautiful as everything is, the visuals don’t always run as smoothly as they should. When the screen begins to fill with enemies and terrain, the framerate drops noticeably, making it more difficult to move around the world.
But the gameplay can’t quite keep up with the lovingly crafted world. Song of the Deep is, first and foremost, a Metroidvania style game. This means you traverse a sprawling map, collecting new abilities in order to enter previously inaccessible areas. Exploring the world is consistently fun and filled with an array of things to do, but controlling Merryn’s miniature submarine takes some finesse.
The sub is slowly propelled through the deep, and while the movement feels true to an underwater experience, it makes maneuvering through the narrow corridors somewhat difficult. I found myself constantly running into walls. Enemy attacks were difficult to dodge because there is no real dodge mechanic, and timing based puzzles were a challenge due to a lack of maneuverability.
Combat is definitely where Song of the Deep struggles the most. Shortly after beginning the game, Merryn acquires a hook that can be used to pick up items and attack enemies. But enemies float lazily towards you before unleashing devastating attacks that are seemingly impossible to dodge. Even when you equip your tiny marine vessel with rockets the combat doesn’t improve. Half of the battles I won were completed through sheer luck. The floaty nature of the sub made it hard to properly position myself for a proper assault.
While the combat does get better it never becomes fun. Especially later in the game, when you are forced to take out hordes of aquatic predators before the doors leading out of the room will open. But while combat does take up a lot of the game, it isn’t what you’ll spend the majority of your time doing.
Being a Metroidvania, exploration, puzzles, and using new tools to solve complex situations is the name of the game. A lot of the puzzles have overly complex solutions that I only solved because I accidentally stumbled onto the solutions.
There is also a wealth of timing-based puzzles, but the timing is never readily apparent, which slows down the pacing of the game and only serves to frustrate. I never felt a sense of satisfaction after redirecting lasers, putting a barrel on a switch, or navigating a series of rapids. Each new hurdle is designed in such a way that I have six hours of play I was desperate to see the credits roll.
The incredibly well-realized world is a joy to explore; I just wish that exploring it was easier. If I’m going to be spending hours wandering around this world I want it to be effortless. Having to constantly worry about steering the submarine in the right direction, or fight against currents isn’t fun; it’s just frustrating.
I really wanted to like Song of the Deep. The storybook visuals, fairytale narrative, and the Celtic world quickly drew me in before the gameplay pushed me back. There were some moments where I thought that the gameplay had evolved to a point where it could correct its earlier issues, but it remained aggressively mediocre.
When the combat and exploration do work, there are some fun moments to be had, but the most memorable part of Song of the Deep remains its visuals. I wanted to finish the game just to see what new areas and situations the game would throw me into.
If you like Metroidvania style games, there are games that are much more fun to control. But the story and world stand out from other titles, making it worth checking out if you’re on the prowl for a deep, mythical world to explore.
Gameplay: A Metroidvania adventure with less than stellar combat and puzzles.
Graphics: The storybook visuals pop off the screen, creating a truly magical world to explore.
Sound: The music creates a beautiful harmony with the visuals.
Presentation: Everything looks smooth, but there are some framerate drops in more hectic areas.
- Beautiful visuals
- Great music
- Fully realized the world
- Fun premise
- Difficult to control
- Frustrating combat
- Unintuitive Puzzles