Review: Songbringer – Old School Zelda With a Top Hat

I’m going to start out with a question that I had while playing Songbringer. “What am I doing?” This was the only question I had as I couldn’t find out the main purpose to playing the game.

Starting off, the title can be a little misleading. When I picked up the game, I thought sound and songs were going to be its main focus. However, Songbringer is a procedural action RPG. The character you play as, Roq, flies around the galaxy in his ship, Songbringer, with his friend and Skybot, Jib. While evading the police, Roq crashes onto the planet Ekzera, and finds a pretty sweet sword. When he takes the sword, he awakens an evil that has been dormant for many years.

I wasn’t impressed by the soundtrack when I started to play. It seemed like an odd choice for a game with a title that makes you assume that your are some sort of bringer of song.  The best way I could describe it would be electric synth made on a super old desktop. I wasn’t expecting the music to sound like that from the title of the game. My expectations were for something along the lines of techno pop. Going with the electric synth sound was an odd choice. It feels as if not a lot of thought went into it, and that it was easy to create and a last minute toss in or afterthought.  Does it fit the game? Sure, because it goes along with the graphics and mood of the game, but it isn’t going to win awards.

Songbringer review, screenshot 1

Overall, I thought the story was lackluster. Besides being extremely vague, it isn’t unique, different, or exciting. I didn’t know Roq’s name most of the beginning of the game and I had no clue what his main purpose was or what had happened to him. Running around the map didn’t uncover a lot of what the story was about. I was left wondering where to go or what to do next most of the time. Sure, I explored the dungeons, but they didn’t offer much until I came across something related to the story.

The gadgets are the kick that the game needs, though. To ease my complaint about not knowing where to go, there are a few gadgets to help out. I barely utilized them because, even with them, I was still confused on when to use them and quickly forgot what each one was supposed to do. Now, don’t get me wrong, I tried to use everything I found. What made them confusing was their purpose. I never knew when to use my meditating ability or when I should use the lighter. Even so, there was one gadget that I liked: the top hat that acts like a boomerang. When thrown at objects across the room, it will pick them up and bring them to you. I utilized it a lot. All the items can be equipped into six slots, which is convenient for boss battles.

Songbringer review, screenshot 2

My biggest complaint is how repetitive the game began to feel after a while. All the areas seemed to slowly appear similar, or to look the same but with different monsters. Most of them had a dark swampy look with some enemies scattered about on it. More often than not, the area ended and I had to double back, which made it more tedious because I thought I was running in circles. Trying to discover areas that I hadn’t before became impossible as I couldn’t figure out how to get to them. Eventually, it got to the point where I would meditate and use bombs on everything just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I’d hit all the walls and run into everything possible thinking that there might be a hidden way to reach half of the map that I hadn’t stepped foot on. Within these areas, I didn’t encounter any unique enemies besides the bosses, and even some of those were just giant sized versions of the regular monsters I had seen before.

Nine times out of ten, I was confused how to beat a boss. Normally, I went in swinging, but that didn’t always work. I more often found myself at the game over screen with my disappointed face staring back at me in the reflection. Now, I wouldn’t say that the combat, in general, is hard. For the regular minions, all you need to do is whack them a few times. When it came to the bosses, though, there wasn’t much guidance as to how to defeat them. The game doesn’t hold the player’s hand, which can be great, but not providing any explanation on the bosses and their weaknesses is a bit much.

Bombs helped a lot when it came to boss fights. They allowed me to lure the bosses to certain points, where I placed the bombs, to get behind them and gain a few hits on them. This was my main strategy when it came to all the bosses. I also used the top hat to grab hearts from across the screen, but I didn’t use any of my other gadgets beyond those. My dash ability helped if I was too close to the boss, but using it seemed more of an inconvenience.

Songbringer review, screenshot 3

The game was funded through Kickstarter. While on there, it claimed to be a “procedurally generated Zelda.” I’d have to agree, though only partially. While Songbringer shares a lot of similarities to the Zelda classics, it has a few differences that make it stand apart from being a spot on Zelda clone. The differences come from the combat and gadgets that I mentioned above. One of the ways it sets itself apart is that you can combine elements you find with your equipment for upgrades and neat effects. For example, you can equip lightning onto your sword and kill a room full of enemies in one hit.

More differences from Zelda include the graphics. While it might look like a lot of other pixel graphic games out there, there was something about the simplistic design to it. It is clean and doesn’t try to be over complicated. I could tell what everything was and wasn’t guessing if a group of little squares were going to hurt me or not. The color scheme was interesting. It isn’t grimy, but certainly dark and gloomy.

Overall, Songbringer is okay. I don’t think it is groundbreaking or the next biggest hit. The elements of the game are ones that have been done before and it doesn’t offer anything innovative to that list. Songbringer also doesn’t provide enough information on what its story is. When it does, that info is extremely vague and leaves more questions than answers. While it calls itself procedurally generated, the worlds seem exactly the same. Combat, weapons, and their upgrades were the only things that excited me about the game. If you are looking for a game with old school Zelda-like qualities, give it a shot. If not, I’d consider picking this up only if it goes on sale.

Haley reviewed Songbringer on Switch using a code provided by the developer.

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