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Usually when people think of Insomniac Games, over-the-top action and insane weapons are the first thoughts that come to mind. In a creative field like video games, though, patterns are meant to be broken and comfort zones are meant to be stepped outside of—and that’s what’s being done by a fifteen-person team within Insomniac. This small group of staffers is hard at work on Song of the Deep, a side-scrolling metroidvania-style passion project that definitely moves away from what some may consider the studio’s bread and butter. I was recently able to play about 30 minutes of the game, and you’d think Insomniac had always been working within that genre.

Song of the Deep follows 12-year-old Merryn, a young girl whose fisherman father has been lost at sea. When Merryn has a vision seeing her father trapped on the sea floor, she decides the only way to save her dad is to find him herself. So, she puts together a makeshift submarine and sets off to explore the murky depths. What she soon realizes, however, is that all the old bedtime stories her father used to tell her about the sea might actually be true, and only by navigating various hazards will she ever be able to bring him home.

Dropped into the middle of Merryn’s adventure, I began by trying out the variety of tools and weapons that her sub has to help it navigate its surroundings. A grappling hook can be used to tether the sub to craggy surfaces in strong currents, pull and carry objects around a level when solving puzzles, or even to try to punch enemies. The sub also featured sonar with pulses that can stun certain enemies, a turbo booster which can really crank up the engines on the sub, and lasers and torpedoes to either defend yourself with or destroy crumbling walls for entry into submerged ruins.

Speaking of ruins, as I explored the world around me, I began to realize that some of the story was being told via the vibrant environments I was navigating. Large tendrils of seaweed acted as window dressing on larger set pieces, but also at times visually obscured hidden pathways. Intricately-carved stone, long lost to time, had eerily been preserved in the deepest recesses of the ocean. Unknown clockwork technology still operated when Merryn interacted with it, opening up new wonders to explore. Song of the Deep is nothing short of beautiful when it came to providing a visually captivating experience.

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As I began to make headway during my hands-on time, I soon came across my first upgrade. It was a special suit that Merryn can wear in order to freely exit the sub. Being much smaller than the sub, the suit allows her to explore tiny crevasses and pathways that lead to special items or solutions to different puzzles. It basically serves the purpose of Samus’ morph ball from Metroid, but Merryn is far more vulnerable in this mode than Samus ever was, leaving Song of the Deep’s heroine open to far more danger.

And danger is something Song of the Deep is fraught with. Being underwater, Merryn and her sub provide a unique twist to other games in the same genre in that there is no platforming. Being submerged, you can always move in every direction as long as there isn’t a wall or other obstacle in your path barring progress. This means bottomless pits or spike traps aren’t on Merryn’s list of concerns, but in their place, Insomniac needed other ways to provide challenge along the adventure.

One way of doing this is to fill each level with hostile wildlife, with jellyfish, urchins, and other sea creatures trying to turn you into dinner if you’re not careful. Another way of upping the difficulty is with puzzles. Navigating labyrinthine corridors with jet stream currents trying to toss you to and fro, using your grappling hook to throw items through narrow openings in order to open up ancient, rusted gates, or working steampunk-like machinery to reflect light at different sensors were just some of the head-scratchers I came across in my time with the game. Although not impossible to overcome, they definitely added a welcome challenge to the adventure.

Although my time with Song of the Deep was short, its appeal is evident. Whether a longtime fan of metroidvanias, or just looking for another endearing digital story to experience, the team at Insomniac is showing their pedigree reaches far past extraordinary weaponry and mind-blowing action. Song of the Deep should be a game to keep an eye out for when it releases sometime before the end of the first half of 2016 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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