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Songbringer

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Double Eleven
Developer: Wizard Fu
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Songbringer isnít quite what it thinks it is, but thatís okay. This independently-developed top-down action adventure aims to be a near-endlessly-replayable quest full of surprises each and every time you run through it. The game is a lot of things, but I wouldnít count such a description as appropriate. That being said, it happens to be an enjoyable, if uneven Zelda clone with excellent aesthetic sensibilities and a unique premise.

Pixel art animation has been around for quite some time, yet itís still definitely in vogue. Songbringer makes use of the same style that weíve seen from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP through The Deer God and all the way up to last yearís excellent Hyper Light Drifter. Yeah, itís not even close to feeling old yet. I adore this art style. For all its retro sensibilities, itís amazingly vibrant and strangely expressive in its own way. As much as I appreciate bleeding-edge tech that blurs the line between computer generation and realism, thereís just something intrinsically appealing about simple color schemes applied creatively. Songbringer delivers on that front. Its depiction of an alien world may not go completely all out like some of its contemporaries, but itís no less pleasing to the eye.

Your mileage will vary with Songbringerís experimental, avant-garde synth soundtrack. It will appeal to some, annoy others, and strike a balance with a select few; for the record, I am one of those few. But perhaps the best way to predict your general reaction is to ask yourself if you like the music and sound design of games on the Sega Genesis. If youíve got history with that console in particular, you know exactly what Iím about to reference: thereís a certain clunkiness to the audio design of most Genesis games that, as far as Iím concerned, is almost iconic at this point in history. No, Songbringer was not developed using the GEMS sound driver, but several moments may fool you into thinking they dabbled in it. I like most of the ambient sounds and music, but I certainly found a handful of cues and motifs to be more than a little off-putting.


Gameplay:

Songbringerís story, from what I can gather, is what you get when you take Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and set it in outer space. Okay, so maybe itís not that simple (or as potentially horrifying), but itís almost as big of a psychedelic trip. Get this madness: the Songbringer is basically a party barge, and its ocean is the final frontier. Its occupants donít seem to be a crew so much as a pack of self-described "revelers." But the jam session ends when the Songbringer drifts into the Bellatrix system and flies too close to the hostile world of Ekzerra. A monolith-like structure strikes it with a bolt of energy, and the ship goes down. You are Roq, one of the revelers who went down with the Songbringer. You wake up shirtless in the wild, find a conveniently-placed sword of legend nearby, and proceed in whichever manner you choose.

You guide Roq from a top-down perspective, exploring wonders of both nature and artifice, all the while using the Nanosword and other acquired equipment and abilities to dispatch a diverse cross-section of Ekzerraís hostile flora and fauna. You more than likely know the drill. All kinds of challenges are awaiting Roq in the wilds, but for a space-hippie, heís pretty resourceful. Not to mention heís got his trusty skybot pal Jib with him.

Thereís a certain formless freedom inherent to the original Legend of Zelda, and for that matter, this yearís The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Songbringer aspires to that model and generally acquits itself well. Considering the scattershot, inconsistent difficulty level of the game, this is hugely important. If you are having a difficult time with a particular dungeon or area, just leave now and come back later. Thereís sure to be something else out there; and most likely something that will ultimately increase your combat readiness. Ekzerra isnít a massive, comprehensive playspace, but itís rich and varied; multiple biomes lie in shockingly close proximity to one another, similarly to its primary inspiration.


Difficulty:

Fire and ice, rarely lukewarm water. Songbringer is inconsistent in its application of challenge, and given the procedural nature of the game, one gets the sense that this was unavoidable. But itís a part of the game, so all of the benefits and drawbacks introduced by this mechanic impact the overall quality of the game.

Combat encounters, in particular, are where things can get ugly. Itís not at all uncommon to enter a new screen (via door or simply shifting the field of view once you reach the screenís edge) only to be set upon by a mob of fast-moving enemies you canít avoid, environmental hazards, or in some truly rotten cases, both at once. I have no pointers for instances like these; just keep trying and keep your cool before giving up on your playthrough. Checkpoints are somewhat frequent, but that doesnít mean you wonít have to replay sequences several minutes long before you reach the point where you previously snuffed it.


Game Mechanics:

The first thing youíll do in Songbringer is seed your playspace. (Donít get any ideas.) All you need to do is input a six-letter string of characters; the game takes this string, and from it, extrapolates the world through which you will adventure. At first glance, you might think this is some sort of revolutionary breakthrough that forever changes the way game worlds are designed. But youíd be wrong. Familiarity will set in during your first play, and youíll find yourself inevitably exploring the same aesthetic and design beats, regardless of which letters you choose and the formation into which you arrange them.

Once youíre actually playing, it feels a bit like a stylish but more clunky Zelda. Roq doesnít feel particularly agile or skillful, but heís not unpleasant to control. You come into possession of the Nanosword right off the bat (I did every time I seeded a new world), and soon after, youíll begin collecting items and weapons that are both standard and unique for this specific style of play. Youíve got your various reskinned Zelda items like the top hat (boomerang) and the matter bomb (two guesses). Everything generally functions the way that it should, but Roqís hitbox feels a bit too large for his limited mobility to work around. Combat isnít particularly thoughtful or dynamic; most encounters will be resolved by swinging the Nanosword like a maniac and hurling a matter bomb or two. But itís no less enjoyable for its simplicity.

Songbringer seems to promise something a bit more special than whatís ultimately delivered in the end, but itís still an enjoyable adventure. Iím not totally on board with the suggestion that its seeding mechanic renders the experience a massively replayable one. Its presentation, premise, and style, however, are not to be denied. Had Hyper Light Drifter not preceded it, I probably would have enjoyed Songbringer much more than I did. But I still enjoyed it, and that counts for something.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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