Song of the Deep Review – Somewhat Smooth Sailing (PS4)
It’s hard not to love Song of the Deep from the beginning. You’re presented with a lovely storybook tale of a girl, Merryn, and her father who are poor but love one another very much. Everyday, Merryn’s father goes out to sea to fish, and every night he returns home and sings of his adventures to his daughter. One night, he doesn’t return, so Merryn does what every girl would do: build a submarine out of scrap and go deep sea diving to find her father. Her adventure is no simple search and rescue as she combs the bottom of the ocean, searching for any sign of her father, and learning that there is more than a hint of truth behind those songs her father sang to her.
The game is beautiful, full of wonder, and you get to stab jellyfish with a clawshot. What’s not to like?
Under the Sea
Song of the Deep is an action-adventure game with a heavy dose of that Metroidvania design that is beloved by so many game developers. The sea is quite the large place, and Merry only has a simple submarine with a simple clawshot that can kill some pesky waterlife and pick up objects to solve puzzles. As Merryn explores, she’ll come across many pathways she can’t access yet, but later down the line, she’ll find a new gadget that will open up all those blocked routes. It’s Metroidvania at its finest, with a veritable cornucopia of treasures and secrets to find.
Each time Merryn finds a new upgrade for her submarine, it’s hard to resist circling back to older areas to obtain those treasures you just couldn’t reach before. I often did not resist, as I wanted as many of the treasures as possible to trade to a Hermit Crab (no, really) for upgrades to my submarine gadgets. These upgrades include making the clawshot stronger, enhancing the turbines to really push through those currents, or enhancing Merryn’s various torpedoes. As stronger enemies appear throughout the story progression, visiting Mr. Hermit Crab becomes paramount to surviving an ambush.
The combat and exploration are by far the most exquisite elements of Song of the Deep. Not all the enemies are as straightforward as the jellyfish, and it’s delightful to figure out a pattern or what works for each particular enemy. Some are armored in the front, and Merryn has to entice them to charge so they will expose a weak spot. Some require precise throws of bombs with the clawshot.
Unfortunately, the delight only lasts for the first half of the game.
Not Hotter Under the Water
After a few hours of relaxing exploration peppered with fun combat, Song of the Deep takes a sharp turn into serious puzzle territory. Suddenly it’s not about exploring the underwater caverns, but solving mirror and light puzzles. And each puzzle presented compounds in complexity from the first, which is typical in puzzle games, and is not the inherent problem with this typical puzzle game.
The puzzles have little to do with Merryn’s various upgrades, as the puzzles did early on. If you can’t solve one, it has nothing to do with the upgrades you do or do not have. It also doesn’t has nothing to do with being difficult solve, which would be preferred. I enjoy good brain teasers that make you slap your forehead when you finally figure it out, or tricks that make you feel like a complete brainiac when the solution dawns on you. Instead, the solution is extremely obvious, but performing the solution requires perfect and precise execution. You don’t feel intelligent for solving a puzzle; you only feel relief you don’t have to do that particular one again.
For example, Merryn’s clawshot can’t pick up a large ball for some reason, and it will detonate if it’s hit with beams of light or sonar pulses. Shoot it with a torpedo all you want; nothing will happen. Accidentally press the sonar button or drop it in front of a beam of light, and it will go boom, forcing you to start over. Naturally, the cavern is filled with beams of light that serve no other purpose in the cave other than to frustrate you at every turn. The only way to roll this ball to the exact location you need it to go is to bounce it on the submarine’s roof with the beam of light hovering below the sub. If you misjudge one bounce or turn the sub too sharply, the ball falls and you’ll have to start again.
This is why controllers are thrown.
If that wasn’t frustrating enough, technical glitches reared their ugly heads where they were least wanted. With a few of the mirror and light puzzles, the light beams would reflect off a mirror one second, and then not reflect the next. The only way I could fix it was to restart the game. I fell subject to a few instances of frame-rate drops at the worst moments, meaning that the frame-rate caused me to dip into insta-death traps.
On the surface, everything about Merryn’s adventure is absolutely charming. The deeper you and Merryn go, the game loses its luster, but it’s still worth undertaking the journey if this style of adventure game sings to you. Just be aware it may not be a complete pleasure cruise.
Lost Sea review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.