‘Song of the Deep’ is a welcome break from combat-heavy games

Two weeks ago, a friend gave me a copy of “Shadow of Mordor,” and I spent several days attempting to upend the politics of Uruk warfare while being mocked by every captain that killed me.

Last weekend, I played several “Destiny” strikes with the same friend, and I ate a lot of enemy bullets while she was busy winning the game.

My bruised ego needed a break.

“Song of the Deep” was that welcomed break. Gorgeous, underwater visuals with a soothing, mystical soundtrack paired with an endearing storyline that is simple but strong? Sign me up.

Song of the Deep“ is a 2D side-scroller game that focuses on exploration and puzzle-solving to move you through an underwater world full of magical creatures based on Irish mythology. It follows Merryn, a fisherman’s daughter who builds a rickety submarine to search for her missing father after he disappears on a fishing trip.

The good stuff

The visuals. I’m a sucker for a good atmosphere, especially underwater caverns and wonderfully colorful reefs. The environment is packed full of beautiful imagery: bright, colorful reefs, dark caverns and underwater merrow ruins (the Irish equivalent of mermaids).

I’m also a sucker for a good soundtrack, and “Song of the Deep’s” mystic, ethereal tones had me wondering if it’s up on iTunes yet.

The game feels more like a novel unfolding, narrated by a soft-spoken woman with a pleasant Irish accent. She doesn’t waste time repeating phrases or offering objective hints, but rather continues the story as if you were reading a book.

The annoying

Discovering items behind bushes of bio-luminescent plants or passing behind a merrow ruin is both satisfying and annoying. It’s not always obvious that these are different from other walls or barriers, and it’s easy to miss key puzzle components or items.

I spent 20 minutes trying to get a beam of light to reflect off a mirror on the other side of the cavern before realizing there was a closer one on the ground, conveniently blended in with the rest of the rock.

You’re going to spend most of your time locating keys that will open underwater gates, or using different bombs and mechanisms to advance. My favorite was a series of mirrors and light beams that had to be broken down and beamed into color-coded pearls, going back to my favorite thing about this game: Everything is pretty.

The bad

The combat system struggles, but it’s clear that combat isn’t the focus on the game. Boss battles are well structured, and depend on more strategic timing of bomb-throwing than straight up melee. Fighting swarms of jellyfish and angler fish with a grabbing claw, however, is slightly more tedious. Any more than three attacking fish and I was button-mashing torpedoes in every direction.

The game’s strength is it’s simple narrative core.

I also got stuck in a section that I realized was not important to the main story, and I couldn’t get back to the correct area of the map. Long story short, I had already opened the door, and should have been able to back track my way out of the area. But the door was closed, so the only other option was to attempt a puzzle that I suspect would only get me a collectible. This is supposed to be addressed in a day-one patch, however.

“Song of the Deep” isn’t trying to be anything groundbreaking: It knows what it wants to be and it executes it well. There’s magic, mystery and an adventurer’s sense of discovery, but it never distracts from the emotional core of the game. A young girl is alone, looking for her father in a world she thought only existed in fairy tales.

After playing battle-based, combat focused games recently, I appreciate being allowed to experience the full scope of Merryn’s journey.

If you’re looking for a break from intense, world-saving multiplayer games, or you’re tired on that one Uruk war captain with a cockney accent mocking you, then take a break with “Song of the Deep.”

Video game review


Developer: Insomniac Games

Publisher: GameTrust

Rated E for everyone

Release date: July 12, 2016

Originally published at www.fresnobee.com.