The metroidvania formula, when done just right, is one of the best feeling and most addictive genres in gaming. Backtracking, to explore previously unreachable areas and knowing that your next upgrade is right around the corner, is a feeling that few other games can capture. It’s how much I love these things and this formula, that makes it hard to say that Insomniac’s underwater adventure Song of the Deep doesn’t make any real splash in the genre. While Insomniac does do some things right in regards to storytelling, far too often Song of the Deep finds itself treading water.
Underwater levels in games aren’t something that developers have excelled at in the past, and despite putting their game completely underwater, Song of the Deep is no exception. Throughout, the underwater battles weren’t incredibly fulfilling and more often than not felt like a slog. The weapons and abilities you unlock aren’t nearly satisfying enough to make up for the fact that the imprecise controls and floaty nature of undersea traversal make fights tedious and overly difficult.
The place where all the gameplay shortfalls really come to a head though is in the puzzles. Most puzzles are simple enough and can be completely without too much thought, and the ones that do take a little extra effort are often the most rewarding. However, again it’s the lack of cohesive movement that left me banging my head up against the wall multiple times. This is especially true when it comes to later puzzles, that become bigger and filled more moving parts, all seemingly there in a quest to agitate you to no end.
Collectables within the game are a fun distraction from this and lead to quite a bit of exploration, but the abilities you get from these treasure hunts don’t really add anything to the gameplay the farther you progress. A choice between leveling up your claw or you torpedoes at first seems weighty, but later on, once your abilities are all but maxed out, it takes away all of the choice that you had in building Merryn and her ship in a way that felt tailored to your playstyle.
The enemy variation is surprisingly interesting. The farther you move into the sea, the more creepy and unique monsters become. The world is filled with sunken ships and treasure chests that really bring to life the long forgotten city that you’re exploring. However, the game’s art style isn’t nearly as pretty as it could’ve been, and while it’s color palette is vast, it doesn’t capture the stained glass feel of a game like Child of Light and never truly amazes like so many other beautiful 2D games in recent memory.
In spite of these pitfalls, Song of the Deep does redeem itself a bit with it’s hearty narrative. Merryn, a young Irish girl, who’s just lost her father to the sea sets out on a journey to find him. It’s a bit of an Irish folk story, who’s biggest motivator is press onward, and discover the secrets that the ocean has in store. The subtle soundtrack also produces great soundscapes to lose yourself in as you explore and, when it wants to, produce thrilling emotions during boss battles and white knuckle edge of your seat moments.
What Song of the Deep does have in heart, it just can’t quite make up for it’s wonky physics and sloppy mechanics. Insomniac is a talented developer and the game’s publisher GameTrust, the new publishing arm of powerhouse video game retailer GameStop, could very well have a bright future ahead of them. Nonetheless, Song of the Deep isn’t a game that has staying power. It’s not a game that will have a lasting influence within the metroidvania genre in any significant way. It’s simply a game that will come and go, only to be forgotten a few months later. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s nothing special about it either. Which in the end, along with all it’s highs and lows, is what sink’s this game’s ship for good.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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