Underwater environments have been a staple in video games for as long as I can remember, but they have always been my least favorite segments of any game. Starting with the original Super Mario Bros., and continuing throughout the years in games like Donkey Kong Country and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, underwater stages have been the bane of my existence. The controls in these stages are usually slow and clunky, and most of the enemies can outmaneuver you. It's a recipe that results in frustration far more often than fun. However, during my time playing Song of the Deep, all of that negative stigma was washed away. The talented team at Insomniac Games has crafted an aquatic adventure that is not only beautiful, but very fun to play. Let's dive into the details, shall we?
Title: Song of the Deep
Release Date: 7/12/16
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
In Song of the Deep, you play as a young girl named Merryn who lives a simple life with her father. One day, her father leaves on a fishing expedition and never returns. Sick with worry, Merryn cobbles together a rickety submarine from spare parts and sets out into the depths of the ocean to find her lost father and bring him home. While playing as Merryn and exploring the underwater world, you will come across many upgrades for your sub, as well as an abundance of hidden treasures. Each piece of equipment you obtain will allow you to access new areas and venture deeper into the sea. For example, you may come across a wall of ice blocking the way into an unexplored area. There will be no way through the first time you encounter that wall, and you will be forced to explore elsewhere. That is, until you obtain the superheated lava missiles, which enable you to melt through those ice walls and access areas previously inaccessible to you. This incremental sense of progression is a staple of Metroidvania games, and it is done very well in Song of the Deep.
One of the first things I noticed about the game when I began playing was the way it controlled. Unlike the sluggish, cumbersome feel of many underwater games, Merryn's sub is quick and nimble, allowing you to dart around and attack enemies. This is especially true once you unlock the boost ability early on in the story.
The game's overall presentation can only be described as beautiful. The visuals resemble a hand-painted storybook, and the musical score is nothing short of fantastic. It's not uncommon to pilot your submarine into a vast, open expanse, only to see a massive blue whale lumbering past in the background. To top it all off, the game's touching story is elegantly narrated by Irish actress Siobhan Hewlett.
There are only a few issues I had during my time with Song of the Deep. Every once in a while, the camera would have trouble following the sub. This was especially noticeable during the first boss battle. The battle takes place in a large room with the boss at the top of the screen. Whenever I would go to the very bottom of the room, the camera would not follow me. It's something that didn't happen often, but when it did happen, it adversely affected the gameplay. Additionally, I felt like the ending was a little abrupt. I guess that could be interpreted as a good thing — in that it left me wanting more — but I felt like the game could have used a little more meat on its bones. After all, the game will last no more than 5 hours (if you don't try to go for all of the collectibles), and there are only two big boss battles in the game. Most disappointing, the final boss battle is less challenging and less interesting in terms of mechanics than the first.
Finally, I should mention that I did encounter a major bug that forced me to restart the game at one point. It may have been an isolated incident, but it happened nonetheless. I ended up getting stuck in an area where a door closed behind me as part of a puzzle. There was a switch in there with me that was supposed to let me back out, but the switch couldn't be activated, no matter how many times I tried. I made the developers aware of the situation, so they may very well be working on another patch for the game. I didn't encounter any other bugs like that in my subsequent play through.
Even though it was inconvenient to have to restart the game, I still enjoyed Song of the Deep overall. The presentation is beautiful, the gameplay is solid, the puzzles are interesting, and the upgrades are unique. All of these elements combine to create a fun Metroidvania game that kept me enthralled for hours.
A digital copy of Song of the Deep was generously provided to us by the fine folks at Insomniac Games (@InsomniacGames).
- Beautiful Presentation
- Great Soundtrack
- Solid Gameplay
- Touching Story
- Occasionally Sketchy Camera
- Abrupt Ending