One thing's for certain: Song of the Deep is lovely to look at. This Metroid-style undersea adventure, which is being developed by Insomniac Games and published by GameStop, has the air of a stylish, aesthetically appealing storybook come to life. The 2.5D backdrops convey a real sense of depth (pun intended), and the pleasantly simple art in the soothingly narrated cutscenes is a treat. But right now, I'm a little worried about Song of the Deep's gameplay, especially with its newly announced July 12 release date fast approaching.
You play as Merryn, a young girl who's heartbroken when her father fails to return home after one of his usual fishing trips. Determined to find him, Merryn constructs a rickety submarine and dives into the ocean, encountering the aquatic fables she thought her father was just making up. Your search involves the exploration of a single, massive map, where you'll navigate such environments as gorgeous coral reefs, ancient city ruins, and strange steampunk facilities.
Despite the younger age of the protagonist and the storybook art style, this isn't a 'kiddy' game - in fact, it’s likely too frustrating or complex for children. All combat takes place in your submarine, which comes equipped with a snapping, extendable claw (which can also pick up objects to solve puzzles), torpedoes that slowly recharge when depleted, and a charged-up sonar blast that can take out a gang of hostile jellyfish in one stroke. If you're not careful, making sure to pick off enemies from afar or eliminating them as they're spawning in, you can end up getting swarmed and find yourself respawning at the nearest save point in a hurry. Meanwhile, exploration is a mix of the submarine and Merryn swimming outside the vessel on her own, which feels achingly slow by comparison but is required to access tight spaces and rotate the mirrors that facilitate door-opening laser puzzles.
After I grew accustomed to the enchanting art, the two sensations that pervaded my playthrough of the brief Song of the Deep demo were confusion and frustration, mostly at where to go and what exactly I was supposed to do when I got there. But with any luck, those worrying kinks can be ironed out by a plethora of fine-tuning and additional guidance for the player. I'm a big fan of Metroid-style world structures, painterly art styles, and the majority of Insomniac's library - but despite that convergence of interests, nothing about Song of the Deep really grabbed me. Hopefully that'll change when it's released for PS4, Xbox One, PC at an affordable $15 on July 12, 2016.