Who wasn’t the least bit curious how this GameStop published title was going to hold up? Song of the Deep isn’t the best, but it’s easily one of the better family friendly games on Xbox One.
Game – Song of the Deep
Platform – Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows
Developer/Publisher – Insomniac Games / GameStop
Release date – 7/12/16
Price – $14.99
(Reviewer Gamerscore: 1000/1000) 100% game completion
Published by GameStop and developed by Insomniac Games, Song of the Deep is a tall tale set in an underwater world. The player takes control of Merryn, the daughter of a fisherman. When her father leaves on his fishing trips, she always stands on a cliff by the edge of the sea and waits until he returns. She did this every day until the day he didn’t come home. In her dreams at night, her father is trapped in the ocean, and he desperately needs help. Merryn decides to build a tiny, rickety sub to search the waters and find her missing father. Merryn quickly learns the waters are filled with the makings of her father’s bedtime stories. There are fantastical creatures big and small. There is an ancient race, the Fomori, who built underwater structures and protective sea drones. This little girl has to fight against all of this to solve the mystery behind her father’s disappearance. It’s all the kind of riveting storytelling that can bring a family together as fast as it alienates anyone teenage or over.
The story is narrated by Siobhán Hewlett (NOT Kelly Macdonald), and the story is intricately woven into the gameplay. For example, sage advice from Merryn’s father: always make maps. This was the game’s segue into introducing the map system. When the player dies, Merryn awakes from a checkpoint as if she just had a nasty dream. These are all a bit rudimentary for hardcore gamers, but they add to the compelling case that Song of the Deep is a great family friendly game.
Song of the Deep is a 2D adventure title that evolves through story progression and upgrades (think Shadow Complex). It caps out at about 10 hours of gameplay on Advanced difficulty with 10 easy to reach achievements: most unlock through a 100% completion. There is no particular advantage to playing the game on a harder difficulty aside from bragging rights. The title is packed with in-game collectibles and features an upgrade system with treasure as in-game currency. Find traders who collect scrap at the bottom of the ocean but expect you to exchange it for thousands of dollars worth of lost rubies, gold fish trophies, and coins. It seems like the poor kid’s getting ripped off but all the scrap upgrades make for a much stronger, reliable vessel.
Checkpoints take the form of tyne wellsprings. Tyne is the magic behind Merryn’s power-based upgrades. Her sub is equipped with an all-purpose magnetic claw. It gets the job done until the game starts hitting harder near the end of the game. Merryn’s power upgrades are torpedoes, ice torpedoes, and explosive torpedoes. There’s also a relatively useless sonar blast. Aside from puzzle based interaction, the explosive torpedoes are basically all the player really needs, and the gameplay becomes a game of first strike. Use the grapple hook before the enemy can get too close. It’s a bit less strategy and a bit more button mashing.
The puzzles are diverse and challenging for younger gamers. Bioluminescent plants hold gifts for the player. Follow light bubbles through ‘obstacle courses’, lead fish to eat coral off of treasure chests, and help different shade lightning bugs find their underwater counterparts. There’s a decent number of A-B puzzle solving and hidden pathways to keep a kid busy. Eventually, the player unlocks an upgrade that allows Merryn to leave her sub and scratch coral from the walls. This unlocks a whole new range of puzzle combinations that add a much needed boost in the gameplay. There’s even a pretty beefy achievement if the player uses Merryn and her tiny little knife to destroy a giant crabby baddy.
Song of the Deep spikes and plateaus incrementally throughout the game. The enemies aren’t particularly diverse, and the weapons are mostly inferior to the grapple hook shot (it takes the wind out of earning the upgrades). Merryn’s ship and the Fomori cities are much more captivating to a younger, impressionable mind. Ultimately, Song of the Deep is generic at its core. It’s dressed up with narration and pretty artwork and it saves itself by providing a solid platform for its message. It really delivers some great morals and values. It teaches children (especially young girls) to be strong. It teaches the importance of protecting the ocean by embellishing the contrast between technology and nature. It deserves a solid thumbs up as a family friendly game.