We all yearn for a simpler time when video games were a more pure experience unclouded by graphical immersion and the clumsiness of complex mechanics. Indie games tap into that nostalgia and transport us back to childhoods filled with 8-bit sprites and funky soundtracks. Songbringer aims to recapture that magical era by presenting a procedural Zelda-like that judders onto your screen in pixelated bursts like a fax from the early 90s all to a background of fuzzy 8-bit synth music.
Songbringer is a quirky sci-fi, action RPG created and developed by one man studio Wizard Fu (Nathanael Weiss) that was funded on Kickstarter way back in 2015. It's had a very transparent development process with the Alpha and Beta iterations having all been available on Steam and, of course, now the final release. As is pretty clear from the outset, Songbringer is heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda series, offering a funkier take on the classic action-adventure epic.
After crash landing on a mysterious planet our unlikely hero, Roq, a fan of partying and music, stumbles across the Nanosword, an item of legend. Grabbing the shiny sabre he unwittingly awakens an ancient evil on the planet and sets out to save the day with his loyal skybot, Jib, at his side. Hacking, slashing, and bashing their way to victory the two friends will reunite with their crew and destroy the malevolent army at the heart of the planet Ekzerra.
The most important aspect of your journey through this funky dungeon crawler comes at the start, as you enter the seemingly innocuous name of your save file. This six-letter word will be used as a seed to dynamically generate a unique procedural game-world, out of millions of possibilities. In this way the overworld map, secrets and dungeons are all determined by your world seed, but entering the same word will always generate the same world, no matter which platform you are playing on, so strange discoveries can be shared. In a unique twist, the music is also procedurally generated, as each toe tapping 8-bit melody is based on your world seed and adapted from an original and thoroughly enjoyable soundtrack.
The combat mechanics will be instantly recognisable to the initiated among you, as it evokes the spirit of Zelda's sword based combat with the usual added array of destructive and useful items. Difficulty increases on a slow ramp with the combat transitioning from one button sword slashes to devastating item combinations coupled with fast, precise movements. Songbringer delivers a satisfying road to mastery because it gradually introduces new mechanics and unlocks abilities at a pace defined by gameplay elements, such as boss battles. Around midway through you're introduced to item combination, which presents you with an opportunity to make the game your own through discovering the one-time, permanent possibilities.
You'll have a host of weapons at your disposal during your journey, including the enigmatic Nanosword, your boomerang-like top hat, teleport orb, ghost sword, lighter and kilo bombs, as well as an assortment of other helpful items. Combine a lightning block with your top hat and your head gear will take on a shocking new twist bolting down arches of electricity against your foes. Combine a fire block with a teleport orb and you'll leave a flaming trail in your wake, you get the gist, but bear in mind combinations are permanent, making each play through possibly even more unique or difficult depending on your item combos.
Elemental blocks are just one of the many secrets hidden within Songbringer's open, nonlinear, grid-like map. Tiles are revealed as you explore them, slowly exposing more of the topography of the planet and the dungeons you need to conquer in order to progress. Each dungeon ends with an epic boss battle that requires particular tactics and item combinations to defeat efficiently. Quick-paced combat and interesting design makes every battle rewarding and, coupled with the progression system, it adds to the satisfying feeling of character progression.
In this sense, Songbringer is a game primed for speedrunning. It's fast-paced funky dungeons are only further enhanced by the roguelike-inspired perma-death option and a robust leaderboard. Add the high skill level and the game's numerous variables and you've got a game that clearly rewards players for mastering the game's complex secrets and shortcut mechanics.
Graphically, Wizard Fu's retro inspired romp is a throwback, a love letter to a bygone time in video games. In what is commonly referred to as pixel art, Songbringer takes the classic aesthetic of the 8-bit era and adds some modern day stylisation creating a nostalgic art-style with all the charm of the classics, but the performance of a current-gen game. It's colourful in its presentation as well as its sound design and creates its own personality out of a tried and tested model.
Songbringer manages to remain refreshing in a market often crowded with games inspired by classic titles, although let's be honest, you never saw Zelda hurling around a top hat like a half-naked Abraham Lincoln. It's this style and quirky humour that only serves to make its narrative and characters more endearing. It has near endless possibilities to the average consumer, but it has to be appreciated that this could be a double edged sword. If you happen to input a seed world that isn't that interesting or is just too easy you might end up playing a totally different game. Of course, there are precautions in place to prevent this, but as you can imagine it is not an exact science.
It's also worth noting that Songbringer is not what could be described as a hand-holder. Some players will enjoy the challenge, but others may simply get frustrated, especially if you're looking for a quick fix.
For those that do find themselves drawn into Songbringer's world, they will be greatly rewarded with a very personal experience that has an excellent progression system and a compelling feeling of completion as you bag yourself boss after boss. Not to mention the great opportunity for re-playability here, especially if you find a new and fascinating world seed. It's certainly got an impressive amount of charm that Zelda fans and players who enjoy procedural dungeon crawlers alike will get a lot of enjoyment from.