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Using a hand drawn art style for this first independent title Insomniac has chosen to give us a Metroidvania-style 2D puzzle shooter in which a young girl called Merryn who builds a makeshift submarine to find her father who has mysteriously gone missing along the way finding out that her father’s bedtime stories might have more truth to them than she expected.
Wanting to create a game with a heroine that his daughter could look up to, here Hastings forgoes any of the usual heroine traits which typically retire potential heroine’s to be pretty, sexy and usually a badass. Instead with Merryn we have a heroine who instead embodies qualities such as intelligence, creativity, kindness and resilience. The game meanwhile is crafted like an underwater fairy tale there is a real innocence to this game, which takes delight in the idea of exploring its underwater world, packed with colourful environments and interesting enemies to battle as Merryn attempts to find her father along the way finding new upgrades and weapons to enable her to access each of the different areas. Adding to this fairy tale style is a narration from Siobhan Hewlett whose narration guides the story along, while introducing each new area and it perfectly matches the tone for the game whose focus is more on the joy of exploration than fierce combat, despite featuring its share of moments where you’re bombarded with swarms of enemies.
The upgrades which Merryn collects throughout the game might be one of its more charming aspects, especially when they all have this bolt on charm to them as he sub goes from having a simple claw attack to later picking up various torpedo types and sonar aswell as later in the game being able to leave your sub and use scuba gear to explore those harder to reach segments. At the same time the game is great in using the limitations of Merryn’s equipment to guide the player through the levels, while at the same time encouraging players to go back and explore areas which they might not previously had been able to access before.
As with the likes of “Metroid” one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is the exploration element, as unlike so many sandbox titles this never feels like time wasted, especially when players who venture off the most direct path will often find their efforts rewarded than finding coding dead ends. At the same time the game is visually so stunning with its hand drawn style and detailed environments you will often find yourself getting lost in your Jacques Cousteau style fantasy as you drive your mini sub through the various tunnels and forgotten temples. Variety is certainly something that “Song of the Deep” delivers in spades with each of the various areas being wildly different from each other from the coral lined opening levels to the web covered caves of the watcher through to the large puzzle set pieces such as “The Tower” it constantly feels like there is something new to discover or hold the players interest so that they just don’t feel like they are getting more of the same.
The downside however comes with the map, which while colour coded to make the warp system a doddle to use, players will often find themselves struggling to know which way to go and stumbling into the same dead ends because they don’t currently have the right upgrade to proceed further. At the same time whenever tasked with finding an object such as the orbs required to unlock the tower, you can pretty much guarantee to find them at the furthest corners of the map, which can make for an infuriating trek especially when having to go through the waves of enemies which continuously spawn in the same areas only further hampering progress when all you want to do is get onto the next part of the story.
The other bug bear with the game is its seeming love of repetition as I lost count of the amount of times you are faced with the same puzzle in a different setting and while it might be fun to build the statues required to unlock doors the first few times it really becomes a chore when faced with solving the same puzzle another 30 times. The same could also be said for the laser puzzles which while perhaps not so over used as the statues never follow any real set of rules as in one section the mirrors can be moved by being swiped while another requires a laser to hit a sensor to move them, with the lack of hints creating an unneeded dead end for some players who with no kind of guidance will find themselves stumped when these section present themselves, even if completing them is at the same time one of the more enjoyable moments of the game.
It’s frustrating that the game is plagued with these issues as its clear that outside of these issues there is a great game to be found and it was almost disheartening to find a game which started out so hopeful as a palate cleanser especially in these FPS heavy times seemed so determined to beat its players down making it harder to rate higher and something I hope will be improved upon as and when we get a sequel as certainly hinted out by the open ending.
While this game unquestionably has its issues, its still a game which is worth giving a curious look especially with its low price point, this will at least provide old school gamers with a nostalgic throwback as well as a change of pace for those feeling jaded by the current state of mainstream gaming.
Listen to our podcast on Song of the Deep here.
Developer: Isomniac Games
Publisher: GamesTrust Games
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC