‘Song of the Deep’ has a few glimmers of greatness
“Song of the Deep” (Rated E; $14.99) can’t seem to get out of its own way. While the small-scale project from Insomniac – and debut of GameStop’s new publishing wing, GameTrust – has glimmers of greatness, it constantly feels just slightly off in ways that could have been easily adjusted for a more pleasant experience. There’s a sweet heart buried inside this game, but its unpolished moments obscure it.
It does break from the conventions of the “Metroidvania” style by slightly setting itself entirely underwater. This reduces the platforming element of the usual game style, and replaces it with a floaty shooter quality, as you have a full range of motion around the entire map.
A whale of a tale
The plot itself is surprisingly dull. Merryn, a young girl who grew up hearing her father’s tall tales of the sea, has a vision when her father goes missing. She goes to search for him, encountering the mythical beasts she’d heard about in his stories along the way. The interplay of characters and creatures seemed scattered haphazardly, not amounting to much on the whole, and the ultimate resolution lacked punch.
This aspect was especially disappointing because the game is so endearing in other ways. The art style had a beautiful painterly quality, and the cutscenes looked hand-crafted with lush illustrations. I was also happy to see a kind, curious young girl as the brave and plucky heroine, even if she was stuck in a mediocre story regarding underwater politics.
The bulk of “Song of the Deep”, though, involves exploration and puzzle-solving. You’ll use the various tools at your disposal to traverse tight spaces or reconstruct statues that open pathways. These are usually light and enjoyable, but again, the game trips over itself by making some too reliant on precise timing or aim.
Combat also comes into play occasionally. It’s a secondary trait to the puzzle-solving play, accented by how long it takes to get a traditional weapon for your tiny submarine. Until then, you simply have to make-do with a grappling claw.
As I progressed, I found enemies were increasingly becoming more and more hearty, and the weightless quality of sea-faring kept the combat from ever seeming like a fully natural part of the experience. Toss in sonar pulses that would toss the tiny vessel around at crucial moments, and its general tendency to lean hard on a series of battles near the end-game, and by the time I finished my feelings had soured by sheer combat exhaustion.
I wanted to like “Song of the Deep” much more than I did. It’s clearly a passion project and certain aspects of it are sweet and appealing. However, the strong story concept fizzles and the play itself is checkered with small problems. Each one is tiny on its own, but like the ocean is made of drops of water, the small things add up and wash over the whole experience.