DUNGEONS, DRAGONS AND……..KILLER TOP HATS?
It amazes me to this day that even 30 years on, video games still take a lot of influence from the Legend of Zelda franchise. Songbringer is just the latest example that has recently found its way into my PS4. With a look and gameplay style that takes inspiration not only from the Legend of Zelda series but many other places with its nostalgically downgraded 8-bit Atari-esque graphics, it’s non-linear dungeon crawling and block like layout, chiptune soundtrack and He-Man façade, it really has a lot. Made possible through a kickstarter campaign, raising over $15,000 and absolutely desolating its $9000 goal, with development beginning all the way back in 2015 with Wizard-Fu Games at the helm this top down, action RPG has finally seen the light of day.
In this game, you play as Roq, a man who travels through space aboard the star ship known simply as Songbringer. After crash landing on a planet that was ravaged by war centuries ago, he soon stumbles across the Nanosword, a blade that hums when it is swung. Roq along with his robot companion Jib then set off to uncover the secrets of the planet and war which destroyed it, all while uncovering his own past as well. The fact you know next to nothing about your characters you are controlling always makes for good gaming as it always compels you to move forward, to learn more, to slake the explorative fire inside to the gamer and to Songbringer’s credit it pulls this off in absolute spades.
As I mentioned earlier Songbringer is almost completely done in an old school NES/Atari like style and it remains true to this throughout with a fond throwback to a time where pixels reigned supreme over the gaming world, with the odd stylishly done cutscene along the way. This is all part of Songbringer’s but at times hinders it (well, it depends on your outlook on this style) with characters being obscured by its devolution often going without faces but with most of the people you come across having a mysterious vibe to them only adds to the enigma. The overworld you traverse is shrouded in darkness, rain and thunder with plenty of obstacles along the way and the bit crushed sound effects on display brings a whole new level of authenticity the whole ordeal even if the incessant blipping when your health (or in this case courage) is low is enough to drive you insane. Even with the 8 bit outlook the developers did a great job on cranking up the atmosphere and with dungeons with such good variety from halls of delipidated technology to caves of stone and fire and through Roq you experience the adventure and danger vicariously and with a chip tune, synthesiser heavy soundtrack full of ambience and atmosphere which compliments the story, environments and genre pretty well however it doesn’t come in much variety with the same few loops being played through most of the game.
Songbringer’s gameplay brings action based sword swinging with character building RPG elements and even offers up that old school difficulty we’re all so fond of, make no mistake, Songbringer. Is. HARD! when you find yourself in the enclosed spaces of the dungeons where you have no choice but to engage with the numerous kinds of enemies you encounter can see you from trekking valiantly to your courage being sliced down to nothing in mere seconds giving players the kind of challenge that we all crave for. But Songbringer isn’t without its flaws with hit detection that can take some getting used to and sections that can be tricky to manoeuvre around, however with its inspiration taken pretty much directly from the original Legend of Zelda it makes this easy for more seasoned veterans of dungeon crawlers to love be it several sections laid out in a grid style on the convenient map to the fact you receive your legendary sword mere feet from the starting point (it is dangerous to go alone after all). It also goes through a completely nonlinear style with you being able to take on each dungeon in an order that you see fit, or so you may think as there are some where you need specific items in order to complete fully and with each dungeon numbered on the map it leads you to question the nonlinearity of the game. You can also craft and upgrade your sword in different ways giving several ways in which to play the game and urging you to start a new seed (something a lot of games fail to include these days) upon completion. As well as all this you are also given the option to try Permadeath mode! A version of the game with a savagely amped up difficulty level, no continues and even a timer for all you speed running enthusiasts out there.