Song of the Deep is a charmingly straightforward game that wastes no time getting to the heart of matters. A young girl named Merryn lives with in poverty with her story-spinning, sea-captain father. One day, dad goes missing after a trip to the ocean. What does Merryn do? Why, the natural thing: She builds a submarine and delves beneath the waves to search for him. She discovers the forbidden city of her father’s tales, and must face the dangers lurking there if she ever wants to see him again.
Song of the Deep is a solid action/adventure title that has you navigating a giant undersea environment filled with secrets and collecting power-ups for your submarine, which initially starts with only a weak grappling hook to attack enemies and pick up objects needed to solve puzzles. The entire adventure takes place on a large map that’s loaded at the onset of each game, allowing you to seamlessly travel from area to area, though several of them are locked away until you find the necessary power-ups (like a sonar blast) to remove barriers as you progress. These power-ups also let you reach secrets hidden away beneath buildings and in alcoves.
Combat sequences are a good deal of fun; you zip around coral arenas, firing your hook at giant jellyfish and vomit-spewing anglerfish. Every new upgrade adds more options during these fights, like using a special torpedo to freeze enemies or a molten one to deal damage to them over time. Adjusting to the velocity and quirks of your submarine takes a bit of time, especially with the waves of enemies coming at you early on. However, I found a tremendous amount of joy in narrowly dodging a giant bullet fired from a cannon, spinning around, and launching a powered-up hook attack to decimate the enemies surging toward me. Overcoming overwhelming odds by using the tools at your disposal conveys a satisfying sense of power.
Certain enemy encounters shake things up by requiring you to embrace new strategies, like only being able to damage the belly of a foe capable of sending homing torpedoes at you. In these fights, you need to maneuver around coral reefs and corners to evade fire, popping out of cover to fire a torpedo at the foe’s weak spot. Another enemy hurls mines that you have to catch with your claw and throw back in his face. It’s in these combat encounters that Song of the Deep works best, forcing you to master strafing and the weapons in your arsenal. Too bad that’s only half the game.
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About halfway through, Song of the Deep takes a sudden and sharp turn into puzzle territory, where you have to use objects like ammunition balls or glass reflectors to solve environmental puzzles. The shift isn’t a problem in itself; the issue is the powerful disconnect between the control scheme and the precision that these challenges require. For example, one section where you have to bounce a ball around with the tip of your sub nose to get it to reach a high up place is particularly annoying. The slightest movement in the wrong direction results in the ball falling to its doom, forcing you to go back to get a new one and do the whole thing again. Several sections are like this, with the best puzzles resulting not in a sense of triumph over solving them, but instead a wave of relief that they were not as frustrating as the one I solved an hour before. Song of the Deep’s puzzles are the worst kinds of puzzles, where performing the solution is much harder than figuring out what that solution is.
To make matters worse, a bevy of technical issue affect the playability of Song of the Deep. During my playthrough, I found three segments where I had to navigate through passages filled with traps capable of killing you in one hit. Each area was accompanied by a massive framerate drop, making navigation more of a crapshoot than a trial involving skill. Another glitch kept an essential item needed to solve a puzzle from respawning, and there was no way for me to know that item wasn’t there until I restarted the game and the item magically appeared.
Luckily, Song of the Deep’s combat and beautiful presentation, showing cutscenes as colorful storybook illustrations accompanied by narration from an Irish-accented speaker, push the game a fair distance above its failings and make it a journey worth taking for anyone who enjoys Metroid-inspired games or action/adventure games with interesting stories.
Disclaimer: GameTrust is the publishing label of GameStop, the parent company of Game Informer. All opinions in this review are the author’s, based on his experience with the game.