We got onboard with Insomniac's latest title, diving deep into an underwater metroidvania adventure.
Inspired by Irish mythology, Song of the Deep is the poignant tale of a young girl who explores the depths of the ocean to find her missing father. Following the success of the recent Ratchet & Clank reboot, Insomniac Games has ventured into unfamiliar territory, crafting an underwater Metroidvania experience. The title is the first to be published by GameTrust, GameStop's recently established publishing arm that aims to bring more independent releases to retail.
Song of the Deep's heartfelt story is expertly narrated and conveyed by a sequence of watercolour illustrations that appear as if they were tugged straight from the pages of a children's bedtime story.
After it finally dawned on her that her father wouldn't be returning home, Merryn's eyes filled with tears and she collapsed to the ground in devastation. Desperate to learn of his whereabouts, Merryn scavenged the parts necessary to build a submarine and set off into the unknown depths of the sea. With the light of the surface slowly vanishing as she delved deeper, Merryn realised that the stories her father once told her by candlelight were more than just a myth.
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You'll be instantly hooked by the game's alluring visuals and skillfully-crafted environments which are decorated by sunken ships, decayed ruins, and the vivid glow of aquatic greenery. There's also soothing ambient music that captures the calmness of the sea. Your time in the deep will mainly be divided between exploring new areas, solving puzzles and trying to prevent yourself from falling prey to the ocean's many deadly inhabitants. As you progress through the story and traverse new oceanic regions you'll find upgrades that come in the form of additional submarine components. Just like other Metroidvania titles, you can use these abilities to gain access to previously unreachable areas and scoop up any goodies that you would have otherwise missed. With the map being quite large and spanning multiple regions there's fortunately warp holes that you can access that will transport you back to previously visited areas.
Roaming through the waters are groups of vicious sea creatures that don't appear too thrilled to find you in their territory. These include giant crabs who threaten to demolish you with one fatal snap of their claws, and crooked anglerfish who fire waves of barbed projectiles in your path. To fend off your foes you can either strike them with your magnetic claw, throw objects that you have gathered, or fire later acquirable elemental missiles. But besides enemies and bosses that have particular weaknesses, these attacks all appear to have the same effectiveness on enemies and you'll likely find yourself opting for the claw due to the ease of its use.
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Curiously, upgrades for your weapons and tools can be purchased from hermit crabs that you can find scuttling across the ocean floor. Within the store you can spend your collected sea coins on a branching tree of upgrades that covers almost every item that you have gathered. Here you can choose to raise the overall damage of your claw and improve your thrusters so they are more equipped to scale powerful currents. But, disappointingly, this is about as exciting as upgrades get as they struggle to really shake up the experience, and nothing we bought felt like a truly meaningful purchase.
Underwater currency is most commonly found in the form of gold, silver and bronze coins that are dotted around the ocean. Additionally they can be retrieved from the remains of your fallen enemies. Solving optional puzzles and venturing down secret pathways may give you the chance to score better loot in the form of treasure chests, gems and fish statues. Hungry clams are also a source of reward, and you feed them shells and other objects that you come across, but they're incredibly fussy eaters and will spit out anything but their desired meal. Although the story follows a linear structure there are plenty of rewards that you'll find yourself backtracking to find, adding additional mileage to your roughly 8-12 hour adventure.
During the second half of the game there is quite a dramatic shift from deep exploration to rigorous puzzle-solving. These puzzles will see you assembling the missing parts of ancient statues, carefully aligning beams of light, and manoeuvring around underwater mechanisms laced with deadly electricity. They may appear awfully simplistic at first, but they can be painfully frustrating to execute. Guiding a tethered explosive through a maze of obstacles may feel incredibly rewarding at first, but you'll be stripped of any sense of pride upon realising that it was just the start in a series of more challenging puzzles.
Luckily the controls are tight and responsive, and our mistakes made during the various puzzle sections never felt unfair. Hitting an ocean floor or rock face won't damage your sub and doesn't make much of a thud. Instead you simply glide through the water, never feeling the pressure of the water pushing down on you from above. That said, we did find switching between missiles on the analog stick to be quite awkward, but all in all it was a solid control scheme.
With Song of the Deep Insomniac has broadened its creative scope and has succeeded in creating an immersive story book adventure that tugs hard at the heart strings. While the core gameplay mechanics may fall short of its achievements within the visual and storytelling departments, but if you're willing to look past its flaws then there's still plenty here to enjoy.
7 / 10
Environments are captivating, it's story is well-written and there are plenty of hidden surprises to uncover.
Puzzles are often frustrating, combat lacks depth and upgrades struggle to feel meaningful.