Songbringer puts you into the shoes of Roq Epimetheos, a space explorer who crash lands his ship on the strange planet Ekzera. After unearthing a mysterious sword in a cave, he awakens a threatening evil presence that lurks upon the planet, sending him on an adventure to stop it. This means venturing across a procedurally generated world, clearing out dungeons, and slaying beasts in an experience that just so happens to share a fair few similarities with an adventure starring an elf in green clothing…
So, the creator of Songbringer very clearly loves The Legend of Zelda series – I mean, part of the marketing push for the game described it as ‘The Legend of Zelda in Space’, but it’s made incredibly obvious within the gameplay too. There are things like the way you travel between the block-like segments of each map, the way you can use bombs to blast open clearings in walls, the fact the game opens with the main character heading into a cave to get a sword, the whole concept of exploring a large world and clearing dungeons… you get the picture. There are so many nods to Nintendo’s critically acclaimed series to be found that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but they all come together to add a few neat touches to the experience.
Most of the combat in the game is done with your Nanosword, though you’ll also come across some extra weapons with the Top Hat (which bizarrely acts as a boomerang) and bombs (which are effective at taking out the large groups of foes) some of the more substantial ones on offer. In a neat twist, you’re actually able to customise some of these weapons and infuse them with different powers – there’s nothing quite like throwing a flaming Top Hat to dish out extra damage on your foe, though there’s flexibility to put together a set up that suits you. These power ups don’t just have to be used in battle either, with them often affecting the environment around you in a variety of different ways too.
Enemies are incredibly plentiful throughout the world of Songbringer, with a wide assortment of mystical beasts roaming around to take down. They can be pretty overwhelming at times too, with the whole screen filling up with them to amp up the challenge.
Unfortunately, actually engaging them in combat could be a little cumbersome. It’s actually difficult to nail down what it is that Songbringer gets wrong with its combat mechanics, because it’s not that fighting is boring; it’s just that most of the time I felt like I was button-mashing and hoping for the best. It often went for quantity over quality by throwing a ton of enemies your way, though the fact that they weren’t all that fun to defeat (and could be tricky to take down anyway) left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
A lot of it comes down to how the Nanosword feels – rather than being the satisfying killing device it should be, it just felt a little awkward to use. It seemed as though my attacks would completely miss enemies who seemed to be in range, or otherwise just feel a little slow and clunky. The other weapons on offer are a lot more adequate, but for a game that so desperately wants to be like The Legend of Zelda, it doesn’t quite get the same satisfying edge with the swordplay.
Songbringer’s world consists of nine dungeons that you need to clear, with each one made up of puzzles and battles against your foes. There are plenty of exciting boss fights to be found too, with each adding a more intense and creative showdown to go along with the constant slaying of fodder. Besides clearing each dungeon, there are also NPCs littered across the world that offer a variety of side quests for you to conquer. They generally consist of simple fetch quests, but they at least offer an incentive to explore a little more of the world.
The world you get to explore is completely randomly built though, with the player able to enter a Seed at the start of the game that creates a world for them. I often dislike procedurally generated games for feeling a little too random in design, but the fact that Songbringer simply changed the location of things as opposed to how they looked actually worked quite well. I played through a few different worlds (all based around my own name, of course) and each felt completely different, but well designed. It was a nice touch to the game and means that each experience you have with it could feel different to the last. It might be something as simple as the location of all the dungeons being completely different to the last time you played it, or maybe the location of items might vary too; it re-invents itself every time you play through. Alternatively, you could just play the same Seed over and over again, but where’s the fun in that?
Songbringer can be a tricky game though. I’ve already mentioned that it isn’t afraid to send a ton of enemies your way, but it’s got a natural difficulty to it by design too. Whilst some of this might come down to the fact that combat can feel awkward, a lot of it is through actual tricky yet satisfying gameplay mechanics. Those sadists amongst you who might want to try the game with Permadeath activated (it’s an option) can do so if you please, but those who want a more normal, enjoyable time might be better off leaving the option well alone; I found it painful to restart a dungeon when I died, so having to do the entirety of the game again would infuriate me. Each to their own, though.
One thing that the game really has going for it is its visuals, with the lovely detailed pixely world really proving to be a marvel on the eyes. Yes, there are an abundance of games available these days that utilise the same style, yet I can’t help but me impressed every time a new one sends some magnificent sights my way, with Songbringer now joining the ever-growing list. It’s just full of vivid designs that compliment the somewhat unnatural world, with the vibrant colours adding to the allure of it all. It made the world a pleasure to explore, with the unfamiliar stylings of each and every locale sticking in my mind long after playing.
I enjoyed exploring Songbringer’s randomly generated worlds and uncovering the myriad of hidden colourful sights they had to offer, but I felt a little disappointed in the combat mechanics. There was something unnatural about the game’s button-mashing showdowns with foes, with the nanosword proving to be surprisingly ineffective unless you line up your attacks perfectly (though even then sometimes it’d somehow completely miss your foes). Whilst it worked fine 90% of the time, the moments where I was frustratingly slicing at an enemy to no avail stand out the most in my memory.
Still, when everything worked properly Songbringer was a lot of fun to play. The dungeons were a treat to explore, the boss battles provided some epic showdowns, and the fantastic pixel art ensured that everything you see is a treat on the eyes. Some shoddy combat mechanics prevent Songbringer from being a great game, but they don’t stop it from being one that still manages to entertain.
Developer: Wizard Fu Games
Publisher: Wizard Fu Games
Release Date: 01/09/2017 (Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux) 05/09/2017 (Playstation 4)
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux