It’s an indisputable fact that Insomniac Games have always been known for their somewhat explosive and aggressive approach to game design. Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive are perfect examples of that. The studio’s latest project takes a detour from the usual Insomniac style and opts for a more peaceful approach to their always enjoyable adventures.
I was a bit skeptical when the studio announced Song of the Deep as soon as I watched the initial reveal trailer. What I saw was exactly what I would’ve imagined a new title from Insomniac to look like. I never disliked the look of Song of the Deep, however, and since sinking some time into it (water pun), I’ve come to the conclusion that this game is one of the most unique, beautiful, and magical titles that the studio has released in a long time.
Song of the Deep is a Metroidvania-styled game that inserts you into the once simple life of Merryn, a 12-year-old girl with a strong admiration for the sea and the potential mysteries that lurk beneath the depths of it. Merryn lives alone with her father, a fisherman, who mysteriously fails to return home one night which leads her to (somehow) build a submarine from scrap that was caught up in one of her father’s fishing nets and plunge herself into the murky depths to rescue him and return their lives to the peaceful one that it once was.
In the typical Metroidvania style, Song of the Deep drops you straight into a vast, open world environment strung together with the use of tight tunnels and claustrophobic caves. The game is filled to the brim with barriers to pass, enemies to defeat, and puzzles to conquer. Following another trope of the genre, many of the areas you come across will most likely include a hurdle that you’ll be unable to pass until you acquire a specific piece of equipment. These unlock abilities such as upgrading the turbine of your submarine to increase your overall speed. This can allow you to advance through areas that would be previously impossible to explore due to the area being blocked off by a current too strong for your vessel to venture through.
As I said, you’ll be able to upgrade your ship throughout the game, but when you first start the game you’ll find that you feel extremely vulnerable, having absolutely no abilities whatsoever to defend yourself with. This sense of immediate vulnerability, just moments after finding out that Merryn’s father has been swept away from her, really helped me bond with Merryn as I inherited her motivation for adventure. By initiating this bond, I ended up putting myself in Merryn’s position, making myself feel somewhat nervous about starting my expedition into the unknown depths of the ocean, much as she would’ve been feeling during this time. Having a real bond with a character this fast was amazing because I haven’t bonding with a character in a video game as quickly as I did here for a long time. Come to think of it, I think the last time that I’d bonded with a character this soon after starting the game would’ve been when I first played The Last of Us — when I first introduced myself to the character of Joel.
Now, Song of the Deep isn’t just your typical Metroidvania game as it contains all of the elements of what makes a game a Metroidvania, but has a heavy focus on solving puzzles in order to explore further into the environment. Rather than just wandering about the map aimlessly until something special that signifies that progression is actually happening, Song of the Deep has a very natural feeling way of letting you know that you’re doing the right thing by giving you somewhat of a nudge in the right direction every time you solve a puzzle, or clear an area of enemies.
Clearing an area of enemies might sound like fun, but the combat elements that make up a good portion of Song of the Deep’s exploration is something that really ends up hurting the game in the long run. You use a claw that can be ejected from the front of your submarine, or pick up objects which can then be thrown, to attack enemies. While the actual combat mechanics themselves aren’t too bad, the common enemies that you’ll encounter are more on the side of annoying than being a threat, appearing too often and just hindering what would be steady exploration. Although annoying, fighting off these enemies does reward you with some lovely doubloons that can be traded with a traveling hermit crab that can be found in various locations throughout the game for a variety of upgrades that can make your ship a more viable vessel for whatever challenges you may face.
Accompanying your undersea expedition is a lone voice that narrates the events of whatever Merryn is doing whenever something important happens. This very much gives off the feeling that what I’m playing is actually confined within the pages of a child’s storybook and a mother is reading this story of adventure to their child before they fall asleep. This is fitting because, during the opening of the game, we find out that Merryn’s father would tell her stories of his adventures at sea before she went to bed. This constant narration of the game gave me the feeling that this voice could be an older version of Merryn telling the stories of her adventures to her children, but I might just be looking too deeply into that.
One thing that just simply cannot be avoided talking about is just how absolutely beautiful this game looks. The entire game looks just like a story book, crafted from nothing but watercolored illustrations and more charming than it has the right to be. The soundtrack that accompanies the visuals gives this game the feeling of being truly magically, which isn’t something that can be easily said for video games these days.
Song of the Deep is an excellently constructed game with a beautiful story that fits the title of Metroidvania perfectly and really shows just how versatile Insomniac can be when it comes to tackling new genres. Unfortunately, the main flaws of the game come from the constant interruption of adventure to take part in fighting some mediocre enemies and the fact that, for what it is, this game doesn’t actually do that much different that hasn’t been seen before. The strong focus on puzzle solving is a brilliant and enjoyable distraction from the often bland combat, but would’ve benefited a lot more if the puzzles were more of a challenge to solve. Song of the Deep really is one of the most truly magical feeling games that I’ve played in a really long time and, even though the combat is extremely frustrating and annoying at times, this game really is one of the better games I’ve had the pleasure of playing this year.
A PS4 review code for Song of the Deep was provided by Insomniac and GameTrust for the purpose of this review
Song of the Deep
- Unique approach the storytelling
- Brilliant first attempt for Insomniac
- Looks and sounds fantastically beautiful
- The world feels truly magical to explore
- The combat is just a nuisance at times
- Doesn't bring anything explicitly fresh to the genre
- Some puzzles can be way to easy to solve