Song of the Deep is a weird game, not because of its content per-se but because of its timing. Insomniac are in the midst of a mini resurgence of late, returning to their roots with Ratchet & Clank earlier this year on PS4 after slightly losing their way with Fuse and not finding as big an audience as they wanted with Sunset Overdrive (which deserved to be a hit, if I’m honest). It’s interesting to see them go into that indie, small time project idea with this underwater Metroidish title … but don’t confuse that with a complaint.
Like a good fairytale, Song of the Deep begins with a hand-drawn introduction that tells the story of a young girl and her adventuring Dad, who dives deep into the unknown waters near their home and brings back strange and colourful stories. When her Dad doesn’t return one evening, our little hero takes it upon herself to build her own submarine (I mean, come on, not even Mario has done that) and dives down in an attempt to find her Father.
Straight away I got hints of inspiration from the likes of Ubisoft’s Child of Light and Moon Studios Ori & The Blind Forest. It’s a little slow to start though, and those tantalising hints of hidden items wait in little corners, sparkling away as if to say ‘hey, maybe later when you’re all grown up’. Then again, it might be a little slow, but it’s beautiful just floating around and taking it all in. It’s a subtle mix of hand-drawn characters and 3D background elements, but it’s rather effective.
Once you start unlocking upgrades for your sub by finding treasure and cashing in (plus getting over the fact that a sea creature is a store owner, for some reason), things start opening up a bit in true Metroid tradition. Areas you couldn’t get to before become easier to reach, enemies get easier to beat thanks to some new offensive options and the story goes further into fantasy territory as puzzles become a little more intricate.
It actually surprised me a little when I unlocked missiles (and other explosive extras) after a little while of using only a small hook to knock back enemy jellyfish and the like. It felt a little too explosive at first, a little too much like a traditional action game instead of the artistic indies it clearly takes its inspiration from, But once the enemy sea creatures pumped up to tougher levels to compete against my sudden surge in firepower, I realised that there’s actually a lot more to Song of the Deep than meets the eye. It’s not the most difficult of challenges compared to others in its genre, but don’t be fooled by the sweet looking hero. She packs a punch and then some, turning it into more of a side-scrolling action shooter than a puzzler in the process.
There’s a decent amount of content to be had, on par with what you’d expect for your money. Most of your time will be taken backtracking, remembering you’ve found little secrets in the past and so on. There’s a decent fast-track system, little portals popping up in each domain you discover to make it a little quicker to get from A to B, which is definitely a welcome addition for someone who hates the long process. I’m generally okay with having to go back to find something I need, or that allusive achievement just for fun, but not if it means spending hours on end or jumping through hoops. Thankfully that’s not the case here.
Side note, I loved the narration. The entire game is voiced by Irish actress Siobhan Hewlett, her voice is Harry Potter like and adds to the experience of this little girls nightmare turned curious trip into the unknown. I would have liked another voice to balance it out, but she holds her own.
Song of the Deep is an enjoyable experience, though it doesn’t really break the mold or try to be anything new or different in the process. If you’e played any of the previous games I’ve mentioned already in this review, then you’ve technically already played Insomniac’s experiment. Again, not a complaint. I had fun exploring further into the strange world, even though at times I got frustrated with those damn jellyfish.
It’s great to see Insomniac coming up with original IP’s, I certainly hope it isn’t the last time they do so. Although it doesn’t always come off as planned with their last two efforts, they’ve always shown a knack for coming up with fun worlds and are more than game to try something different compared to their previous work. They’ve got a lot of work cut out for them with their Spider-Man title coming out next year, so we’ll wait and see how they cope with that.
Mark Isaacson is the editor of PN2. Go say hi @Mark_D_Isaacson