Songbringer Review

At this point I’ve been playing videogames for about eighteen years, and by threading through thick and thin, I’ve learned how to exactly judge the book by its cover, or rather the game by its promotional materials. I’ve called the fact that LawBreakers will fail to capitalize on the hype of hero shooters weeks before its release; I knew from the get-go that Prey will not live up to the hype; and that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, despite of CI’s best attempts, will be an absolute monstrosity. However, there was one game which I was wrong about, and that’s the Songbringer.

Songbringer, to me looked like every other pixelated action game, which is desperately trying to capitalize on the ‘’it is just like Hotline Miami – but different’’ trend. And when I turned it on, and was presented with rather lacklustre main menu, and UI – I was certain that it is all that it thought it would be, a cheap and soulless action game, cobbled together by one man in a matter of weeks. But oh boy, was I wrong.

Despite of a slow start and rather misleading promotional materials, Songbringer manages to present the player with a rather impressive, and complete package. Which grows with each and every room, and dungeon, of which there are nine throughout the entirety of the title. And every single one of them is as rewarding as it is difficult.

The core of Songbringer’s story is centred on the aforementioned dungeons, as they are the mean to an end. And completion of each one of them, brings the player closer to the finael. And while the first one is rather easy, and can be completed without any bother, it is just a taste to what’s to come. As Songbringer, is an incredibly difficult game, and it presents the player with its true self during the fourth dungeon, which in itself, is nowhere near as difficult as the rest.

The in-game dungeons can get tough-as-nails, and despite of the punishing difficulty, the title still manages to stay both enjoyable, and rewarding. As while the dungeons can be fury inducing, in the end, they reward the player with not only an additional health, but also an additional items – of which there are dozens in-game.

Initially, the game begins with the player stranded on a foreign planet with no means to defend him/herself. And the main weapon of the title, the sword, is located right by the spawn. But it is possible to walk right by it, as many will likely avoid entering the ominous looking cave, within which it is stored. But once one dies at a hand of a simple slime one too many times, he/she will likely double down and enter the cave, which stores the abovementioned weapon.

Songbringer, despite of concentrating on the sword as the main weapon, doesn’t stop there. As the following caves, dungeons, deserts, and forests store a wide array of other items such as a magnetic top hat, a blink-orb, and a bomb. However, these are just a handful of active items, all of which can be affected by other, passive trinkets which can allow the player to fire ranged projectiles out of his/her sword, or to attract items with the throw-able, magnetic top hat.

At any single time, player can bind six different items to the in-game hot-bar, but the nature of Songbringer, encourages, and even forces one to constantly alter his preferences. As throughout the game, in addition to the basic combat, players will also have to solve a wide variety of puzzles, which will require one to use a range of different items such as lighters, and/or meditation.

The core of Songbringer has been clearly well thought out by the developer, as the gameplay-loop is incredibly well designed, and is constantly pushing the player forwards by encouraging, and rewarding exploration with ever-new items. And the open world architecture of the game, also removes any restrictions, meaning that one can explore and complete all nine in-game dungeons, in any preferred order – but only after the initial mandatory introduction has been completed.

Songbringer’s freedom of choice, and sense of adventure are above and beyond the other titles of this particular sub-genre, as even the Hyper Light Drifter could learn a lot from the Songbringer – in this aspect. However, Songbringer, despite of its brilliance is not a completely perfect game, as in its current state it features a number of bugs and glitches, which affect the experience severely.

The first major issue, which most who decide to pick this title up will notice, is the fact that the combat is incredibly inconsistent. As at times the player character can stand right by the enemy, and not receive any damage; while within the same room, player can be centimetres away from a monster, and be at the receiving end of his attacks despite of the fact that no contact is being made. And while this issue is noticeable right-from the get go, it is initially not as troubling as you are only fighting weak slimes, and hedgehogs. But once one begins going through the latter dungeons, the inconsistent combat can be infuriating.

Latter stages of Songbringer ditch your average slime, and basic humanoid hostiles in favour of cultists, floating balls of tar, and other curiosities. And while their minimalistic design is impressive, and pleasant to the eye, it is ultimately lost in the shuffle due to chaotic placement of some of the in-game hostiles. As some dungeon rooms can feature so many mobs that the player character is even impossible to spot, and unless one is willing to spend an hour on a single room, he/she is likely to skip it altogether. But sometimes, it is literally impossible to skip a room, as it may contain an item vital for progression, which can only be obtained after defeating all the mobs.

On my playthrough, I have stumbled on an entire dungeon filled with rooms which were borderline impossible to complete, as I would receive two hearts of damage before I even had a chance to place a bomb, and even if I managed to somehow defeat all the enemies in the room, I would usually die right within the next, as it was usually as difficult if not more. And this wouldn’t be a problem if the enemies remained dead, but unfortunately, all monsters respawn upon the player’s death. And what makes the matters worse, is an irritating  glitch which at times stops you from getting all your heart containers upon respawning, meaning that you are at a disadvantage, before you even begin.

When all is said and done, the work of Nathaniel Weiss, who is the sole developer behind Songbringer, is a tale in two parts, which resembles a work of Brothers Grimm. On one hand, it is a tale of child-like wonder, where exploration takes the centre stage, and each and every new location hits the player with discovery of new items, and the utterly beautiful pixel-art aesthetic of the rooms, and the world itself. But on the other hand, it is also a tale of pain and suffering, as the procedural generation of the in-game worlds is not always perfect, and can result in delivery of rather painful experiences.

In-short, Songbringer is an incredible title, which is unbelievably advanced considering the fact that it has been made by a single man, with $15,000 – more or less. The level visual level design, and composition of some of the rooms is truly spectacular, regardless of the procedural generation. And the utterly charming aesthetic makes it shine even brighter. As despite of its simplicity, it bears an impressive amount of minute detail. But as much as I’d like to give it a score as high as an 8, or even 9 – I simply can’t. And that’s because in its current state, Songbringer suffers from numerous technical difficulties, and the random placement of the enemies in-game, leaves a lot to be desired.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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