Song of the Deep is a new 2D metroidvania style side-scroller from developer Insomniac. Insomniac is known for their work on the Ratchet and Clank series, Sunset Overdrive, and the upcoming Spider-man title for PS4. Insomniac teamed up with GameStop going under the name GameTrust to publish this title. This is the first game that will be fully published by GameStop as the retailer looks to expand their business due to the rise of digital media purchases. It was released on July 12th 2016 and can be purchased via digital download or at GameStop for a physical copy for all you collectors out there.
The player plays as 12-year-old Merryn on her quest to find her missing father in the sea. Merryn’s father is a fisherman and they live a nautical life. This theme is present throughout the entire game and really enhances the atmosphere. The story is told in a storybook like fashion with a narrator (voiced by Siobhán Hewlett) chiming in at certain events during the game. Despite the simple plot, Insomniac has done a fantastic job of making your journey as Merryn emotional. I grew to care for this character the further I submerged deeper and deeper into the sea finding clues of her Dad’s whereabouts.
The majority of the game you play in a submarine that Merryn built to find her father. Many times games that feature underwater levels that are frustrating to control and this is a game built entirely underwater. Luckily, Insomniac did a fine job with the controls. The sub is easy to control and has a momentum to it that feels right for being underwater. As you progress in the game you will find upgrades for your submarine such as a grappling hook, sonar, missiles, and boosts. This is a classic example of metroidvania style gameplay. The map is large and there is a lot of backtracking however, I never felt bored backtracking because it gave me an opportunity to find new treasures. Most treasure can’t be accessed until you receive a certain power up. For example, stone pillars can be destroyed by your missiles, however, you’ll need a strong sonar blast to shatter glass. The gameplay is focused more on puzzle solving than combat. There is combat in the game but it is fairly basic and over pretty quickly. The game shines though with its puzzle design and feel of exploration. As you gain more upgrades you will gain the ability to leave your sub and swim as Merryn. This also plays into the puzzle design where you will need to leave your sub on a pressure plate or swim through narrow corridors as Merryn. Merryn also receives her own upgrades such as a knife that can remove barrier reefs and reflect light for the light puzzles in the game. For a game based completely underwater, the gameplay never felt boring.
Graphically the game’s art style is wonderful. The backgrounds and foregrounds especially are beautiful to look at, very colorful, and feature a lot of small details. During my adventure my sub passed a group of whales in the background swimming by doing their thing. The foreground adds even more depth to a 2D game with reefs and sea plants filling the screen in colorful patterns. A fear of mine going into this was since the game was solely underwater at all times that all the areas would look the same. This was not the case and each area of the map you explore is very distinct in look and feel. When you are near the surface its nice a bright, rays of sunshine are coming through the top of the screen. As you submerge deeper it gets darker and darker. There is one area that is completely black that you will need to use sonar for to see where the walls are. The game also features some very interesting and unique lost civilization and technological locations. My favorite location was a steampunk based tower with gears and mechanical turtles. The sub is designed nice and the movement is fluid as it turns on its 2D plane. Merryn is a bit small on the screen when you leave the sub so the detail isn’t as noticeable in her character design. The music is also wonderful. It gives a whimsical feel and when I played it, the music made me feel really relaxed. I consider playing this game a relaxing gaming experience due it’s slower pace and focus on problem solving instead of reflexes along with its great atmospheric soundtrack.
For technical aspects, there were a few issues I found with the game. The first one was the occasional frame rate stutter. It didn’t affect my enjoyment but it was noticeable and for a 2D game, in my opinion it’s unacceptable. Another problem I found were glitches. There were times where items or treasures would seem impossible to get until I realized they were glitched inside of the geography. I would have to restart my game in order to collect them. Loading times are also an issue. While you don’t have any loading once you in the game, to start the game the loading time is too long for my liking. From the moment you initiate the game you spend a few minutes on loading screens until you finally get into the game. My final gripe is the save points. They are plentiful but they are touch sensitive so if you swim over one your game stops for a second to save. I found this frustrating when I needed to swim past save points multiple times. I would have preferred context sensitive where I could press a button to active the save point.
For achievement and trophy hunters, this game has only 10 achievements that are not hard to get. Only two actually require a bit of effort and they are not even that difficult to achieve.