There was a time in each of our lives when the world looked a little different. There was a time before bills, before responsibilities, before life had kicked us in the teeth. There was a time when the world was filled with possibility, when youth seemed like it would last forever, and when each of us could be anything. Song of the Deep recalls that world and paints it with the brightest colors on the palette. It reminds us of a time when a little girl could build a submarine in a day, and embark on an undersea voyage with nothing but her wits and determination.
Song of the Deep is a budget game with AAA presentation. The graphics are beautiful, and continue to dazzle as you travel from setting to setting under the ocean. From the undersea city of the Merrow Ruins, to the skeleton covered sea floor of the Bone Vaults, each area is rendered with the same care, with bright colors and vivid backgrounds. Seaweeds sway in the foreground, schools of fish glide through the water, and eels peek up from their caverns in the ground, only shying away as you draw closer. The visuals breathe life into the world, as does the soundtrack, which alternates between peaceful and haunting melodies.
The controls are not as tight as some might expect. Your submarine is slow to pick up speed and doesn’t stop immediately when you do. Momentum plays into how you move and turn, which can throw you into harm’s way. The physics make sense given the setting and your method of locomotion, but there’s a learning curve. This is particularly true when navigating obstacles in tight spaces.
The story is told by way of a charming narrator, who oozes kindness and positivity. The plot is simple and targeted to children, revolving around a girl’s journey to save her missing father. It’s definitely a kid friendly game, which might give mature gamers some pause. It really shouldn’t. Beyond the exterior lies a well-balanced game with lots of variety and a level of challenge that’s pretty standard for today’s gaming market. In other words, the kid friendly aesthetic does not equate to a game that’s overly easy.
Gameplay alternates between exploration, puzzle solving, obstacle navigation, and combat. True to the Metroidvania subgenre, the world opens up as you collect items that enable to you traverse regions that you previously couldn’t. Missiles allow you to blast open walls, a boost jet enables you to navigate strong currents, and a sonar blast lets you crack through glass. Of course, this means you will be backtracking from time to time, though it’s never for very long. The map is designed to allow quick traversing from one end of the map to the other, with the more time-consuming areas tucked into the corners.
Combat is a simple affair. Attacks are performed with your grappling claw and with missiles, of which there are three kinds. There are only a few enemy types—each with variants—but they behave uniquely. Jellyfish emit electric pulses, angler fish shoot projectiles, and nautiluses charge. Combat often takes place in open, designated areas, and continues through multiple waves. It’s not the most creative integration of combat, but it’s fun, and provides a nice test of your awareness and dodging capabilities. Still, the enemy selection is too limited. There aren’t a lot of bosses, nor are there many “heavy” enemy types that require a lot of hits.
Outside of combat, Song of the Deep tests your mettle in a number of ways. There are a lot of timing-related obstacles, such as dodging falling pillars, navigating mine fields, and slipping between lasers. There are search lights to avoid, turbines to navigate, and dangerous creatures to sneak past. Variety is presented masterfully, never allowing routine or tedium to set in. Even when mechanics are repeated, it is done creatively, presenting new tests of skill and new puzzles to solve.
Brainteasers make up a good portion of Song of the Deep’s challenge, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. The puzzles are well-designed, but they’re stacked on top of each other in a manner that alters the pace of the game. There’s a section midway through that requires players to rotate mirrors in order to reflect light beams around the room. The puzzle repeats several times with added complexity until you finish the level. In and of itself, it’s a good section, but it’s also a departure from the established formula. Many players will like it, but some probably won’t.
I liked Song of the Deep’s puzzles, and I liked Song of the Deep. The production values are excellent, and the gameplay is varied, with each mechanic working successfully. Combat is the game’s weakest feature, but despite my objective recognition of its flaws, I enjoyed it. The game is a celebration of childhood wonder; it’s positive and hopeful without an ounce of cynicism. There are a lot of high-quality Metroidvania games on the market, but few offer the diversity of gameplay present in Song of the Deep. I highly recommend it.