Insomniac’s Song of the Deep holds a special place as the first game published by GameStop’s new publishing company, GameTrust. It must set the standard for GameTrust as a publisher and show that Insomniac has not lost its touch.
Luckily, Song of the Deep is a steal for only $15, and shows that there are still ways to be creative and innovate in the Metroidvania genre.
The plot follows a girl named Merryn, whose father is lost at sea before the game’s start. She builds a submarine out of scrap parts and goes searching for him. When she goes underwater, she sees the world from her father’s bedtime songs and stories, which she previously had thought to be made up. Along the way, she makes a few friends, and uncovers a whole lost civilization under the sea.
The story is told through a single narrator, who does different voices for anyone or anything Merryn comes across. This is a interesting style, and helps establish the overall dreamlike and storybook-esque feeling of the game. While the narrative hits a little bit of a lull in the middle of the game, it picks back up towards the end, and truly makes you care about Merryn and her quest.
The soundtrack by Jonathan Wandag is a varied and interesting one, being calm and relaxing during slower sections, and very tense when things heat up. The rest of the game’s sound design is also fantastic. Little things like hearing a light-switch flick when you turn on your submarine’s lights, or the pitter-patter of a crab’s feet as it walks across the ground help the world feel truly alive while making you feel immersed in it.
The game also runs very smoothly when controlling your submarine or swimming around as Merryn. With multiple elements moving on screen at the same time, it is certainly an impressive sight to see the ocean work so smoothly in tandem. The game did slow down when saving, which is done automatically when certain spots are passed.
Song of the Deep also has very few loading screens which helps the game’s pacing. While laid back, it always encourages the player to move forward and get to the next objective. The map is easy to understand as it fills itself in, and always indicates where to go next with waypoints and markers
The backgrounds look very nice and feature many layers of parallax scrolling which gives the world depth. The submarine looks a bit out of place, but that seems to be done on purpose in order to make the player feel like an intruder in this mystical underwater world.
Enemies, which include creatures inspired by jellyfish, anglerfish, and crabs are drawn well, as are the few bosses in the game, which are both terrifying and thrilling to fight.
Song of the Deep’s controls do a great job of making you feel like you are actually controlling a submarine. They are floaty enough to simulate movement in the water, but provide enough control to navigate through the different areas. Tools like the claw and missiles are intuitive and easy to handle. Poor control could have sunk this game, but luckily it is fun to play and engaging throughout.
Many different tools and abilities, like varied missile types and a sonar system are unlocked as the player progresses through the game. Like most Metroidvania games, these abilities can be brought back to previous areas and used to unlock new things. Each one also has its own uses in combat too, so none of the abilities feel one-note or only necessary to unblock a certain passageway. Secret areas contain coins that can be used to buy upgrades from a hermit crab for both the submarine and all the different tools and abilities.
The game’s combat is also fun in small doses, using the early-obtained claws and missiles to fight aquatic adversaries. Sadly, in later parts of Song of the Deep, the player is locked in a room and forced to defeat all enemies in the room to progress. This is overwhelming and may have to be completely redone when Merryn dies, grinding the game’s pacing to a halt. One-hit kill squids are also introduced towards the end of the game, and lead to some cheap and annoying deaths due to their unclear range of attack. Without them, the game would probably be much smoother and less unnecessarily frustrating.
The camera tends to have problems in a few large boss battles where the focus zooms out. It will readjust itself afterwards, but this can cause confusion as to where Merryn is. It works fine otherwise, but these few instances really suck you out of the experience.
Out-of-suit Merryn sections pop up later on, and are usually just as fun as the submarine sections. She can get into small crevasses and use a knife to cut up barnacles that are in her way, allowing her access to areas inaccessible by the submarine. Scale is done really well in these parts, as things that normally appear small in the submarine appear large when outside of it.
Most puzzles mostly consist of manipulating light beams to activate switches. These are okay at first, but when an entire tower dedicated to them comes into the picture later on, the trial-and-error nature becomes a bit annoying, and slows the games pacing to a crawl.
I had a terrific time with Song of the Deep. It puts an interesting spin on the classic Metroidvainia formula with an underwater setting that is rare to see in games. Although a few problems slow down its pacing, the gameplay, combat, and story are great.
The game takes about eight hours to complete, although it would be closer to 12 if trying to 100% the game and find every little secret. With that said, the game is short and concise enough to keep players wanting to come back for more, and I can’t wait to dive (pun intended) back into the game and look for everything I missed the first time through. Any Insomniac Games or Metroidvania fan probably won’t be disappointed by picking this game up and trying it out.