Song of the Deep seems like a weird fit from every angle. It was developed by Insomniac, which I mostly associate nowadays with big-budget romps like Resistance and Sunset Overdrive. And it’s published by a subdivision of GameStop, a store I mostly imagine selling…well, big-budget romps like Resistance and Sunset Overdrive.
And yet Song of the Deep ($15 on Steam) is a quiet, self-reflective, and occasionally gorgeous 2D adventure that doubles as a coming-of-age story for its young and resourceful protagonist. Strange bedfellows.
20,000 seconds under the sea
Song of the Deep tells the story of Merryn, a girl brought up alongside the sea. Her father, a fisherman, tells her stories every night about what lies beneath the waves—huge cities, belonging to the underwater Merfolk and providing refuge against the ocean’s horrors.
Merryn doesn’t believe him, of course. But when he disappears and doesn’t return to the house for days on end, she cobbles together a submarine out of spare parts and sets off in search of him. Told you she was resourceful.
Lo and behold: The stories were true. There is quite a bit hidden beneath the waves. It’s Big Fish by way of the 2014 animated film Song of the Sea. Hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost believe Song of the Deep is the official licensed game adaptation of Song of the Sea. There are a lot of broad strokes similarities, both narratively and aesthetically.
Insomniac’s story works though, simple as it is. Related by way of a narrator, the game presents itself like a fairy tale world, imbuing the ocean depths with wonder—feelings shared by Merryn herself. With naught but the submarine on her back, Merryn sets out to comb the ocean for her father’s sunken fishing boat. And as these things go you’ll gradually upgrade that same submarine, unlocking parts of the map or new paths inside places you’ve already been.
It’s a charming story glued onto the spline of a Metroidvania, the same lock-meets-key sort of game recently represented so well in Axiom Verge and Ori and the Blind Forest—except here there’s a submarine, which makes Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet or Aquaria a more appropriate analogue I suppose.
Insomniac’s dreamt up a bevy of aquatic-themed ideas for Song of the Deep, including some interplay between the submarine’s weapons. Shoot a torpedo and then grab it with your submarine’s claw and it’ll spin around your vessel like a murderous shield. Creative, albeit a horrific safety hazard. Upgrades are along the lines of torpedoes that encase enemies (or lava plumes) in ice, or headlights that scare away jellyfish, or glass-shattering sonar pulses. And then there’s Merryn herself, who eventually gains the ability to exit the submarine to enter narrow passageways or solve some pretty easy (and tiresome) puzzles.
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