Song of the Deep Preview: Under the Sea

I’m reminded of Child of Light as I play Song of the Deep. The soft, muted tones of the background complement the bold foreground. Color is used generously throughout. Enemies are threatening and dangerous. Best of all, it’s whimsical and dreamlike, taking place in a world made of wonders to be revealed. It’s beautiful to look at, and its emphasis on exploration merges perfectly with a narrative about intrigue and discovery.

Song of the Deep is centered on a young girl named Merryn, whose father works as a fisherman by day. At night, he returns home and tells her about his adventures on the water, really capturing her attention with tales of a hidden underwater world just below the surface. One day, he doesn’t return home. Leaning on her own creativity and will, Merryn constructs a crude submarine and launches into the depths in search of her father and this fabled city.

Creative director Brian Hastings explains the reasons for Merryn’s presence in Song of the Deep, claiming he wanted to give his own daughter a character to relate with whose value was derived from more than how she merely looked.

“I noticed any time [his daughter] would tell me about [her favorite characters], she would start out by talking about how pretty they were. And I was thinking ‘Okay, that’s cool,’” he says. “But, she valued that about herself a little bit more than I wanted her to. I wanted to create a hero for her where she’s resilient, strong, creative, and smart. That’s what makes her heroic. You don’t look at her as being beautiful; you look at her as being strong and heroic.”

Merryn’s story mixes well with Song of the Deep’s emphasis on exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving. “It was really important that [Merryn] be alone. She doesn’t have anyone to help her, so everything she does is really…how does she solve these without any help, and how does she get through this?” 

Because Merryn’s own situation closely resembles that of the player, Hastings is hopeful people will be able to connect and sympathize with her as they continue exploring the depths. There are visual and audio cues arming players with ideas of how to solve puzzles or navigate particularly challenging battles, but it’s ultimately up to them to make their way through. Because she’s alone, Merryn’s story follows this exactly.

Song of the Deep is billed as a 2D Metroidvania adventure, meaning it allows for backtracking and upgrades to continue moving forward. In these types of games, this is mostly done by encouraging the player to explore, discover areas blocked off by particular obstacles, and figuring out how to use the items and upgrades they’ve accumulated to break through into a new area. It’s a style of game new to them, he says, and one they’ve wanted to do for some time.

“It’s a genre that all of us on the team grew up playing and loved, but had never done before. And, I think it’s just…we really wanted to have that sense of exploring a world where you could feel like you’re uncovering secrets. And Metroidvania, more than any other genre, has that feeling of ‘Okay, I found that, I found [a] place’ as opposed to ‘I finished a level and then a new place appeared.’ And it just felt like a perfect fit [for] what the story was about.”

During her time in the deep, Merryn encounters enemies in the form of sea creatures and other entities, all of whom have particular weaknesses and attack patterns that must be countered and attacked appropriately. Sometimes it’s via the melee ability of attacking with a grappling hook, while other times it’s using the submarine’s powerful and upgradable torpedo cannon to blow up the opposition in her way.

Additionally, one item available in the demo unlocked Merryn’s ability to search the water without worrying about air. This gave the player the option of exiting the submarine vehicle and swimming into much tighter cracks only possible for a small girl’s frame. It’s one of the many different things to be discovered and used in Song of the Deep to continue exploring this strange ocean world in its entirety.  Song of the Deep is also a literary debut, as it releases alongside a novel adaptation of the game telling Merryn’s story in greater detail.

This tie-in is oddly appropriate, considering the entire game itself feels like a beautifully-illustrated children’s book from the start.
I had some reservations about the obtuse nature of some of its puzzles, but Song of the Deep is still a promising project. It’s beautiful, creative, whimsical, and endearing in its ability to both tell a heartfelt story and back up the narrative with a finely-tuned game.

Look for Song of the Deep on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on July 12, 2016 for $15.

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