Back in 2015, Nathaneal Wiess (aka Wizard-Fu) launched a Kickstarter for Songbringer. Billed as a “Zelda-like action-adventure-RPG” with a bunch of unique, procedurally generated worlds, Songbringer looked to be the sci-fi answer to Nintendo’s mega popular series. Now that this indie title is out, I can say that Songbringer does succeed in what the game was trying to do—a homage to Zelda—but it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as that iconic series.
The Legend of Roq
The plot to Songbringer is simple, but it helps to push the player along and gives a reason to explore the world other than just seeing what the game will create. After a mysterious bolt of lightning knocks Roq to the surface of the planet he was trying to survey, he finds the Nanosword and unwittingly unleashes an evil upon the planet. So it’s up to Roq to explore the planet, figuring out what exactly is happening and what needs to be done to stop it.
Songbringer is a very clear tribute to The Legend of Zelda, the original NES one specifically. There is very little hand-holding here, and you’re allowed to explore pretty much wherever you want from the get-go. There are some barriers that require you to get certain items before you can cross them, but otherwise, it’s up to you what to do. I found plenty of dungeons I could enter out of order, odd landmarks that required me to come back to once I got new powers, and plenty of other things just by exploring the world. The game does also have methods to help gently prod you in a certain direction if you need help or desire to move things along quickly, but you’re rarely forced to do anything in Songbringer.
The overworld is quite similar to the original Legend of Zelda, too. There are few NPCs in the world, and caves hold item shops, money stashes, and other goodies. Even the screen scrolls like the older 2D Zelda titles do, with each screen being one block on the map. Of course, you also have a number of items, including your trusty humming sword and bombs to wipe out enemies.
Combat, however, is my biggest gripe with the game. I’m unsure if it’s due to the game’s art style or maybe where hit-boxes are set, but hit detection in Songbringer feels off. There are times where I feel like I should be slashing into an enemy and missing, and other times where it’s clear that I should have taken damage yet haven’t. There’s also an oddity with bombs, as the game seems to clearly display the range of the bomb, only to get hurt while standing a good distance away from where the red lights signaled. This problem is most apparent when trying to fight a mid-boss or agile enemy that’s the same size as Roq, as trying to hit them while dodging attacks becomes incredibly frustrating. The odd detection puts a damper on what’s otherwise quite a good game.
Songbringer Review — Sci-Fi Psychedelic Zelda (PS4)
One of the main draws of Songbringer is that you can enter a six letter “word seed,” and each seed will create a different map to explore. Any required landmarks will of course still be there, but the overall map layout and environments will be vastly different. For example, when I recorded the video for world POMPOM above, I generally found characters and landmarks (like the save point) very quickly, but when I explored world BUTTER, I didn’t find any of those things until after I cleared the first dungeon.
This, of course, leads to a lot of replayability for Songbringer, like any procedurally generated game. However, the word seeds give Songbringer something really neat we don’t usually see in these types of games—the ability to share the seeds with other players. If you decided to explore world BUTTER, it’d be the exact same world BUTTER that I explored. If someone told me, “Hey, check out world SQUEAK” and gave me a screenshot of their map, I’d be able to follow it and find every important area and event easily. It’s a great little feature, and combines the best of both a randomized and different world to explore with discovering secrets of a set world with friends.
Songbringer is a worthwhile game to play if you’re a fan of the action-adventure genre. Overall it’s well made, looks nice, and the word seeds make the game fun and offers a sort of replayability most action-adventure games cannot. It’s a bit unfortunate that the wonky combat makes some encounters more frustrating than they need to be, but other than that Songbringer is a well-crafted experience.
Songbringer review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.