Review: Songbringer


Trippin' the light fantastic

Space, science-fiction, and "expanding your mind" have always gone hand-in-hand. Whether it's something as worthy as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, or as campy as Jane Fonda vehicle Barbarella, many creators like to partner the vast unknown of space with, well, tripping your balls off.

Songbringer, an action-RPG from indie outfit Wizard Fu Games and its auteur, Nathaniel Weiss, also marries sci-fi adventure with a healthy injection of New-Age philosophy, all presented under 1980s aesthetics. Some would like to call it "Zelda on acid!" but that's not strictly accurate on either count, as well as being awful writing.

(PS4 [reviewed], PC)
Developer: Wizard Fu Games
Publisher: Wizard Fu Games
Released: September 5 (PS4) September 1 (PC) 2017
MSRP: $15.99 (TBC)

Songbringer is the story of intergalactic explorer and top hat wearer Roq, who crash lands on the ever-adapting planet of Ekzera, separating him from his mothership, the titular Songbringer. Against the advice of his companion droid, Jib, a seemingly innocent action causes Roq to unleash demon spawn upon the planet. Armed with a humming nanosword and no shirt, Roq and Jib must explore the unknown to locate their lost crew-mates, vanquish the demons, and return to the mothership.

Songbringer is a procedurally-generated RPG. The player enters a five-letter "World Seed" which establishes the layout of Ekzera, for a new map every game. The gameplay does recall Zelda, with Roq exploring the hub map, finding currency in the scenery, and dispatching small foes with a sword, a pouch of bombs, and his boomerang top hat. The game's nine dungeons can be raided for weaponry, crafting materials, and extra hearts, with the goal being to defeat the bosses housed within.

Very unlike Zelda are Roq's meditation abilities, used to regain health and interact with the scenery for area access and even psychic communication. The native cacti that grow across the planet's surface can also be collected and eaten for temporary, psychadelia-soaked stat-buffing. Various materials discovered can be crafted with weaponry to add elemental effects and damage boosts.

As Roq and Jib progress through their adventure, lore will be uncovered about Ekzera's history, the fate of its population, and the role our hapless hero has to play in its future. This, I'm sure, will be fascinating to some players, but I personally found all the characters disconnecting, and I'm far too square for the game's "Whoa...man..." philosophising.

The gameplay itself is very smooth. I struggled a little with the combat at first, but given some timing practice with the sword (no mashing, kids) I was carving up Ekzera's wildlife with reckless abandon. The bosses, though light on animation, look good, are unique in design to each other, and provide strong opposition.

The 8-bit pixel visuals are colourful, quirky, and inventive, but the game looks muddy. In a stylistic choice to create a detailed world with simplistic pixel art, Wizard Fu have succeeded in over-complicating the imagery, which can be annoying when enemies and life-sapping area effects are hidden behind a wealth of dots. On occasion I was killed by something that had blended into the background, particularly infuriating during boss fights. Add to this the cacti-induced visual disturbances, and bullet-dodging can become a bad trip indeed.

The game has a great sense of exploration, with an array of hidden items and bosses to be discovered. It's possible to complete the game without even knowing you missed an entire dungeon, so a spirit of experimentation is well-rewarded. When I reached the finale I had, through intention or otherwise, defeated every dungeon. My completion time was around ten hours, which admittedly includes a fair chunk of  "Oh shit, I'm stuck" meandering.

Songbringer is clearly a very personal game to Weiss and his life experiences, and as such may not be to everyone's tastes. It is definitely a competent title, with good exploration elements. It also has replay value, with its wealth of secrets, adaptable map, and even a sadistic permadeath option. But I personally found the flat comedy, hollow characters, and acid-inspired thematics kept me from embracing the experience.

Songbringer is an adventure that is both reminiscent of many other popular titles, but also has a heart of its own. This makes for a juxtaposition of recognisable, rigid structure and a desire for free, rule-breaking indie design. It's an odd mix that I think will turn off as many people as it turns on. But many players will find the cleansing of Ekzera a weird, dizzying challenge, that's curiously familiar yet very unique. For this reason the game is a trip worth considering.

I may have not been quite as enthused with its new-age pontificating and prog-rock aesthetics, but, you know, that's just like, my opinion man.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Songbringer reviewed by Chris Moyse



Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


Chris Moyse
Chris MoyseSenior Editor   gamer profile

Chris has been playing video games since video games began... still terrible at them. Former Saturday Night Slam Master, rambles nostalgically like Abe Simpson. I ain't here to fight, so let's no... more + disclosures



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