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E3 2016 Hands-on: Song of the Deep


Jonathan Higgins

2015 brought some of the best Metroid-likes ever created to enthusiasts like me. Axiom Verge still reigns as the new king of the genre, for me. Ori and the Blind Forest was pretty top-tier as well. Since this is a genre I'm extremely proficient with, I'm always looking for new contenders. Heart Forth Alicia is a recent game I“ve played that showed a lot of promise, and... so too, does Song of the Deep, from Insomniac Games.

 

I could spend a while discussing why I think the term “Metroidvania” and even my often-used “Metroid-like” are a couple of bad labels -- because the first thing that comes to mind about Song of the Deep is how it“s not a game where causing destruction will solve problems.

 

Before I even get into the story and art-style, I“m going to just say right from the onset that this game is not very “Metroid-like” at all, despite the obvious label attached. The submarine that“s piloted during the game is a fragile thing, not some ultra-destructive force. I have no doubt that, throughout the game, combat will become a slightly larger focus as the submarine gets more parts. But I still feel that exploration and story are more philosophically important than killing everything you see, like other parts of the “Metroid-like” canon.

 

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Song of the Deep tells the story of a little girl, Merryn, and her father. They live meager lives, but they“re happy. Merryn“s father would often tell her stories about creatures that lived in the sea through verses of song. One day, her father doesn“t return. And then she has a dream that a terrible fate had befallen him, and she heard him calling her name for help. That“s when she built a fragile submarine from pieces of scrap -- to help her find her father. And the rest... is in the mechanics. I think you“ll be doing more skillful navigating than intense bits of combat. I don“t think fighting“s the point (at least not initially), this time.

 

Merryn's journey already breaks one conventional rule of the “Metroid-like”... there“s no jumping. I think this is the first game in the genre I“ve heard of where 100% of it will probably be spent underwater, where gravity and jumping height are never a concern. Within minutes of gaining control of the submarine, I saw the bits and pieces of where the developers got their inspirations from. You can expect currents, pesky enemies to electrify you, multiple checkpoints to make any journey more bearable, and multiple difficulty levels to make the journey more (or less) possible.

 

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There was a much greater emphasis placed on grabbing and moving various objects to solve puzzles and gain items than there was on combat. Enemies were there, and they were tricky at times, but they weren“t numerous. And it“s not like you could shoot them up at first, anyway. Much of the first leg of the game that I played during the demo involves the use of a claw you get at a certain point. The claw can grab objects, destroy walls that are heavy enough, and defeat enemies with enough persistence. Puzzle-solving was intuitive, not too cumbersome and back-tracky. It“s all going to feel right at home to someone who“s played many a game like this one.

 

The thing that sets Insomniac Games“ latest effort apart is its presentation and soundtrack. This is definitely going to be a tale full of child-like wonder, under the sea. I“ll embed the debut trailer below so you can see for yourself. But suffice to say: I“ve played many a Metroid-like in my time here on the site. Song of the Deep breaks enough conventional rules even with its basic concept, for me to say “consider giving this one the time of day”.

 

You won“t have to wait much longer to do so, if you“re interested. The game will be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on July 12th. If you want a physical version, you can grab one via GameStop -- the retailer who“s actually publishing the game. Otherwise, the game will be available digitally as well. We“ll offer more information and further thoughts as that July 12th date gets nearer.

 

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