Song of the Deep is the tale of a young girl named Merryn, who journeys to the ocean’s depths in a homemade submarine to search for her missing father. The premise is wholeheartedly charming, full of imagination and presented like a children’s storybook. Similar to Bastion, every major turn of the story is accompanied by a voiceover narration. Song of the Deep plays like a living bedtime story as Merryn encounters many of the sea’s mythic secrets that her fisherman father once told her about.
The premise is set very briefly in the beginning of the game, with a short sequence of narration and illustrations to lay out the basic story. Merryn is seen waiting for her father overnight and then pooling together all of her knowledge and resources to build a makeshift submarine. After plunging into the water to search for him, an adventure begins with all of the wonder and curiosity of a child’s imagination.
Insomniac’s passion project is full of charm and atmosphere, and ends up being a very heartfelt adventure into a dangerous ocean world. Song of the Deep is rich with color, almost always feeling friendly and fun. At times it delves into the ocean’s deepest and darkest areas, which is a monumental tone shift. It effectively portrays the scariest moments of a children’s story. Young Merryn remains strong, despite being frightened by horrific monsters such as a giant undersea spider in the pitch black.
Gameplay feels very familiar, as Song of the Deep is yet another take on the modern sidescrolling Metroidvania, similar to Guacamelee and Ori and the Blind Forest. A large map is gradually uncovered by exploring and acquiring a variety of weapons and abilities throughout the voyage. Objectives are plainly laid out on the overworld map with a yellow X, eliminating any “where do I go?” frustrations. Additionally, treasures also appear on the map, though some may not be accessible until much later on.
It’s no secret that underwater levels are generally not fun. Players have been frustrated with them for decades, whether it’s Super Mario Bros., Zelda’s Water Temple(s) or Ecco The Dolphin in its entirety. To make a game set completely under the sea is a risky endeavor, but Song of the Deep handles it well. It is uncommon to see the ocean in video games, which is a shame since it is one of Earth’s richest and most fascinating mysteries.
Most of the game’s time is spent in the submarine, though the ability to leave the vessel in a diving suit is unlocked later on. Merryn’s little submarine controls adequately, feeling mostly precise and easy to steer. There is complete freedom of movement, though it takes just a moment to stop or turn around in the opposite direction due to the force of the water.
Where Song of the Deep really falls short is with its combat. The submarine is only equipped with simple projectiles such as a variety of torpedoes and a claw, used for both damaging enemies and grabbing objects. The combat’s biggest flaw is the fact that there isn’t much to it. Essentially it is a repetitive point-and-shoot mechanic, with a few of the enemies requiring a bit more strategy. For example, one shell-based enemy will charge at you, allowing you a window of opportunity to strike at its soft backside.
Jellyfish and other low-threat enemies attack in waves, which doesn’t provide much of a challenge, but rather ends up ultimately slowing you down. Since they die in one or two hits with torpedoes or the claw, they really are more of a nuisance than anything else. Boss fights occur occasionally throughout the game, which are based on classic 2D boss mechanics. You’ll be required to send projectiles back at them or avoid their attacks until an opportunity to strike presents itself. These fights are certainly more enjoyable than the frequent trash mobs or mid-level enemies encountered regularly throughout the game.
As I got further into the game, enemies became more frequent, a little tougher, and much more frustrating. Song of the Deep’s best moments are spent exploring and progressing through the story, and combat simply feels like a chore most of the time. In particular, the final boss is more irritating than challenging. It throws waves and waves of difficult enemies at you and causes you to restart from the beginning with every easy mistake. Though not unbeatable by any means, it felt like a distraction from the story’s peak climax.
Mid to late game also entails solving a number of puzzles, which are innovative but also very patience-testing. Color-coded lasers must be pointed in the right direction in order to progress through a series of gateways in a tower. These puzzles do not hold the player’s hand and are actually fairly well designed. On the other hand, they are based so heavily on trial-and-error that I found myself becoming more frustrated than perplexed.
It should be noted that after completing the previously mentioned puzzle tower, I was met with an unfortunate rare glitch that halted my progress. The path to the exit was blocked by a gate that I had already opened, which would not allow me to exit the tower. This resulted in my having to restart the game from the beginning, which was a huge inconvenience since I was about four hours in.
If Metroidvanias are your thing, Song of the Deep is most definitely worth investing in. Completing the game takes roughly 7-9 hours which are well-paced and engaging. With tons of hidden secrets to find, dedicated players can even get a few additional hours out of it.