Song of the Deep is an interesting project. The game is a beautiful throwback to what gamers of my generation call “metroidvania” style, named for the two titles mashed together to create the moniker. The game features a large, interconnected map to explore in a two-dimensional world. It is an action-adventure game featuring limited, simplistic controls that are easy to pick up that can be a pain to fully master.
The companion book of the same title is an adventure story for middle-grade readers–I’d say ages eight years old and up–that more fully fleshes out the story of Merryn, the 12-year-old hero of both titles. Written as a “love letter to his daughter”, author and Insomniac Games’ Chief Creative Officer Brian Hastings spins a tale of fantasy based upon Irish folklore and starring a girl determined to save her shipwrecked father using her head and her hands to create a submarine from the scraps her fisherman father has brought home from the sea over the years.
The book feels spun out of the tradition of a parent telling his child bedtime stories filled with adventure and featuring a hero molded after the type of person the parent would like the child to emulate. Think Winnie-the-Pooh or Watership Down. Merryn is resourceful and determined. She is creative and adventurous, intelligent and hard-working. Merryn’s adventures take her into the sea, where she finds that the songs that her father sang and the stories he told her are real after all.
The game differs in content from the book, and rightfully so. What makes a good book isn’t necessarily what makes a good game. Those who read the book first, as I did, will be grateful for the small changes. I’d hate to have to wait as long in the game to get the claw for Merryn’s sub as we do in the book. What does carry between the two are the fantastic visuals and sense of whimsy. Again, I am glad that I chose to read the book before experiencing the game, as I got to picture the scenes in my head before I saw them on my screen.
And what impressive visuals they are! At times, the game feels like a virtual saltwater aquarium. It is tempting to stop for a moment and just watch the backgrounds… which is often possible to do without interrupting the flow of the gameplay. In addition to the stunning visuals, the game features hauntingly beautiful music that creates a sense of weirdness and wonder that is at times peaceful, thrilling, or downright creepy, depending on the scene.
There is not proper tutorial for the game, but the controls are intuitive and easy to pick up. However, as is common to many games in this style, they rely on precision and placement. Players find themselves required to be in just the right place at just the right time. What can be difficult to master becomes infuriating when you add in the fact that the gameplay takes place under water, which means that your little homemade sub doesn’t stop on a dime. It drifts. Boss battles can become exercises in frustration.
Once players advance to the point where they are able to leave the sub and explore previously inaccessible areas of the map, the game opens up from a fairly straight-forward experience to one of exploration and treasure hunting, extending the hours of enjoyment one can get from the game in an effort to fully explore the map, gather the treasures, and unlock upgrades for the sub.
I highly recommend the book Song of the Deep for readers ages eight to twelve years old. Only after finishing the book would I suggest that readers then pick up a copy of the game. Think of it akin to making your child read the book before letting them watch the movie, only in this case the movie is the interactive experience of playing the game.
Both titles are available online. The best deal I have found on the book is at Amazon while the game can be downloaded for the PC through Steam or for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of the book and a copy of the game for the PS4. All opinions are my own.