You walk through a doorway and find yourself in a dark dungeon. The room is quiet, so you explore, entering the only unlocked room you can find. As you do you’re ambushed by a small army of goat demons and flying bugs hell bent on destroying you. So you do the only thing you can. You throw your weaponized top hat at them, breaking the bats’ fragile bodies as you smash the goat demons to death with your Nanosword. This is the world of Songbringer.
Exploring Everchanging Expanses
Songbringer is a top down Zelda-style adventure set in a pixelated sci-fi universe. Your ship has crashed, your crew is scattered, and you are about as lost as can be. Over time you’ll find a sword, a boomerang-style hat, a floating robo buddy, and an assortment of other oddities which you ‘ll use to progress through the world.
It’s an otherwise standard adventuring formula that resembles a mash up of Hyper Light Drifter’s visuals with the gameplay of Link to the Past.
Songbringer aims to set itself apart with the way it crafts its world. At the beginning of each new game, it asks you to input a word, which it uses as a seed to prodedurally generate the world. Using the same word will generate the same world each time, and different words will make new versions of the world. Worlds differ in level layouts and enemy distribution, but ultimately share the same environment and dungeons, making the mechanic a virtual tile shuffler. The word you choose will also impact the game’s difficulty just based off the amount of bad guys you face and where you encounter them.
For my playthroughs, I chose ‘Butts’ and ‘Roomba’ (because I am clearly very adult). For ‘Butts’ objectives were scattered far apart and many of the dungeons were difficult due to a pairing of many floating brains and this super OP snake man asshole who kept showing up. During my ‘Roomba’ playthrough though, everything was much closer together and the monster distribution seemed much more fair.
Songbringer’s combat is a straightforward hack and slash. The sword mechanics are generally solid but I found constant frustration with a lack of blow back when you hit an enemy. As I chopped away at a goat man for example, I’d find him continuing to walk in to me causing damage, which became absurdly frustrating when fighting a large group of them. The snake man mentioned above also had this issue but with much more aggression and HP resulting in some of the must frustrating moments in I’ve had in recent gaming memory. Often, the snakes would feel harder than the actual bosses, humping your avatar until you cry or die or both.
Being able to create different worlds and share the same wordseed with your friends allows for extra fun after you finish, but the game misses the point of replayability inherent to this style. Your combat encounters and dungeon will change, but it doesn’t maintain the fast pace and variety needed for unlimited replay value.
Songbringer’s random world building also causes a problem of muddying clarity. Many times, I would find myself in a dungeon, having walked through every room numerous times but finding no solution as to how to actually enter the boss’s room. When I tried a different word seed, I found this wasn’t as much of a problem and I was able to navigate dungeons easier, but it would mean losing countless hours of progress. Approaching the game knowing that if you start with a different word, your troubles will be lessened can prove somewhat of a relief, but for players who don’t know they have the option to do so, they could ultimately have a very frustrating four hours and never want to touch the game again.
But when Songbringer succeeds, it can be very absorbing. The world is beautiful and goofy with a sense of exploration heightened by random discoveries. Items like a cup who’s description reads ‘Used For Drinking’ are pretty plentiful and generally chuckle worthy. The baddies are creative, ranging from the aforementioned floating brains and goat demons to tiny bugs that cause you to freeze. It’s an enjoyable world that’s paired with fun (albeit faulty) combat.It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it is satisfying to stuff an overgrown anteater with cosmic metal. The ability to throw your hat for ranged damage and mechanics like a dodge/teleport also add some variety that help to keep things fresh. And most importantly, when you hit a good stretch of gameplay, going from dungeon to dungeon, killing baddies and powering up, it’s easy to lose a few hours.
Songbringer is a fun game that is not without its problems. When it’s good it’s very enjoyable, feeding all the hack and slash urges and nostalgia trips you could want, but when you hit a bad spot, it can be endlessly frustrating and suck the life out of itself. While it may be tedious to start a new wordseed if you find yourself in a similar situation, Songbringer is definitely worth the time for any adventure or retro gaming fans.