Available On: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The underwater portions of old 2D side-scrolling games were often the bane of every gamer’s existence. Thankfully we’ve reached a point where not only can maneuvering underwater feel right, but we can play entire games set within a vast underwater wonderland. Song of the Deep obeys the time-tested Metroidvania playbook to create a worthy adventure with a heart-warming story.
The Little Sub That Could
Song of the Deep opens with the beautiful, heaviliy Irish-accented narration by Siobhan Hewlett. The cutscenes used throughout the adventure are drawn and lightly animated like an interactive children’s book.
Merryn watches her fisherman father go out every day, until one day he doesn’t come back. She scraps together her own submarine and embarks on a perilous journey to rescue him, and discover the secrets of the deep.
If you’re not familiar with the “Metroidvania” portmanteau, it’s becoming a common genre for 2D indie games to explore. Merryn’s submarine can do little but keep her alive when she first sets out. Gradually you acquire new tools and weapons to solve puzzles and defeat ferocious sea life. A grappling claw is your first and most useful tool, allowing you to manipulate objects, grab levers, and even attack enemies. Later you acquire different elemental missiles, headlamps, and a sonic emitter.
The neatest addition is when Merryn finds a shell that lets her breath underwater. She can exit the sub to reach smaller areas, and many puzzles require the perfect placement of Merryn and her sub.
Puzzles range from easy to devious, with deadly traps of lasers and crushing pillars that kill you in one blow. Save points are frequent – though warp points are not. For a genre built around back-tracking through previous areas, it gets tedious to travel around later in the game.
Under the Sea
The underwater world is divided up into about half a dozen interconnected zones. Skeleton Reef is filled with the remains of old sunken ships, while The Maw is a vast, vertical chasm that descends into darkness.
Like other games of the genre, many areas, treasures, and secrets will be blocked off until you acquire the proper tool. An upgrade to your sonic emitter will shatter glass gates, while ice missiles will cool gates of lava (not sure how those even work underwater, but hey, you also shoot fire missiles).
Enemy variety is sadly limited to about four or five different types. Electric jellyfish and acid-throwing angler fish simply get stronger and more numerous as you advance. This keeps the challenge level ramping up, but you also lose a sense of being able to go back and squash the little guys. Boss fights are few and while their designs are fun (and often room-filling) I found them all fairly easy, especially the final boss.
The main challenge lies in collecting the upgrades and treasures, all of which become marked on your map when you get near them. Money is the primary collectible, and can be traded in to upgrade the various tools and weapons you’ve found. The claw and booster upgrades felt essential over the gimmicky missile tricks you can pull off, like briefly shielding yourself in ice.
One of Song of the Deep’s biggest strength’s is that it’s rated E for Everyone. There’s some Mild Fantasy Violence when defending against the occasional hostile sea-life. But there are far more puzzles and exploration than combat. The tale of discovery and rescue is charming, emotional, and captivating, and well-suited for all ages.
Song of the Deep isn’t the deepest Metroidvania I’ve played, nor even my favorite underwater game (look up Aquaria). The game makes up for its light, simple combat with fun, varied puzzle designs and a beautiful world to explore. Song of the Deep has a satisfying challenge curve that remains fun for its 10+ hours, and the grand story will keep you invested in Merryn throughout her journey.