Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Song of the Deep Review (XONE)

Song of the Deep takes the familiar Metroidvania-style of 2D adventure games under the sea with mostly successful results.  The undersea world is filled with glorious sights to see and incredible creatures brought to life through gorgeous visuals and great sound design.  The gameplay is a little simpler and more slowly paced than a typical Metroidvania, but it works well overall and features some surprisingly great puzzles.  It does stumble just a bit towards the end, but overall Song of the Deep is a fantastic 2D adventure game.  See our full review for details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: GameTrust Games
  • Developer: Insomniac
  • ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
  • Genre: 2D Adventure
  • Pros: Looks great; awesome sound; fun Metroidvania gameplay; some great puzzles
  • Cons: Insta-death red squids
  • MSRP: $15

Song of the Deep stars a young girl who builds a ramshackle submarine out of junk to go search for her fisherman father when he doesn’t come home one day.  She had heard songs and stories from her father about a fantastical world that was hidden beneath the waves but didn’t truly believe them.  It turns out, though, that it was all true.  Gleaming treasure-filled cities, mermaids, mechanical guardians, and more await as you explore the depths.  The story is told through narration that picks up just at the perfect moments to make the game feel like you’re being read a storybook, and the story itself is very well done Disney / Ghibli-esque fantasy that kids and adults will both really enjoy.

The gameplay in Song of the Deep is pure Metroidvania.  You explore a large open map to find new abilities and items that allow you to open new paths and explore even more.  Since it takes place underwater, however, your abilities are a little different from most games in the genre.  You find upgrades for the submarine health and power, turbo boosts to help you fight against strong currents, various types of torpedoes to fight enemies and open doors, lights to scare away certain fish or light darkened caverns, a mechanical claw to grab items, and more.  You also get the ability to leave the submarine and swim freely around in order to travel through small openings.  The game does a fantastic job of spacing out required upgrades along with optional hidden stuff at a terrific pace, so you always have some new toy to play with.

The actual moment-to-moment gameplay is a little different from most similar games, though, again because it is under the water.  You move more slowly and the overall pacing of the game is usually pretty relaxing.  You can take your time and really soak everything in and I love that you don’t ever have to worry about air or supplies or anything.  There are enemies present, but they are usually more of a nuisance than a real threat.  The focus here is mostly on exploration of the beautiful underwater world and being able to take your time to really appreciate it. 

That isn’t to say the game is boring, though, far from it.  While the combat is generally easy, there are some great puzzles sprinkled throughout as well that provide more of a challenge.  The puzzles largely revolve around pulling a switch to open a door, building statues with parts you find, or blowing open new paths with mines you find and these are usually pretty straightforward.  When the game turns the puzzles up a notch, though, such as a mind-bending puzzle requiring you to reflect colored beams of light up a tower, things get much more interesting. 

Song of the Deep does have a distinct flaw, though, and that is the last third of the game or so isn’t nearly as fun as the first two-thirds.  New enemies are introduced that can instantly kill you and they just aren’t any fun as they immediately send the difficulty level through the roof in a game that was generally pretty easy to that point.  There is also suddenly an escape sequence, remarkably similar to the escapes in Ori and theBlind Forest, where you have to rapidly dodge and avoid a whole herd of these insta-death red squids to try to reach safety.  It is a shame that the last chunk of the game is such a grind when the rest of it is so fun and well done.

The presentation is the glue that holds everything in Song of the Deep together and it really is fantastic.  The visuals are very nice looking with great lighting and bright colors highlighting a gorgeous undersea world.  Despite being played on a 2D plane, the visuals have a lot of depth with separate foreground and background pieces and it all looks good.  The sound is also very well done with excellent narration – love the Irish accent … - and some truly outstanding music.

Song of the Deep is a very well crafted game that Metroidvania fans will have a lot of fun with.  It actually gives me a lot of the same warm fuzzy feelings I get from Ori and the Blind Forest, particularly in the story and presentation, so Ori fans should definitely give Song of the Deep a try.  I also like the shift in focus from combat towards more exploration and puzzle solving, and any 2D indie game that isn’t a “retro inspired hardcore oldschool difficult platformer” gets a thumbs up from me as well.  All in all, Song of the Deep is well worth a look.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.