Monday, June 11

Review: Songbringer [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There’s no doubt that the Legend of Zelda series has had an enormous influence on video games, so when you release a game that seems to universally get compared to it there’s a mixed blessing attached. Certainly being put in the same breath is a bit of an honor, but at the same time being evaluated against such a revered classic has to make you nervous over the comparison. Songbringer has a slashing style and a fair amount in common with the iconic series, but very much breaks off into its own style along the way.

In terms of the fundamentals of combat and the game world itself there are abundant notes that feel familiar and yet at the same time it’s impossible not to quickly notice the differences. Where the adventure in the Legend of Zelda series is meticulously designed and typically either intended or hard wired for you to go through the game in a specific order, Songbringer’s world and dungeons are procedurally generated. While there are weapons and abilities like bombs or your top hat you throw and can grab things with like the classic boomerang, once you get rolling you’ll have the opportunity to combine gear and create some of your own versions of things that can have a variety of effects, allowing you to forge your own path on all levels.

Certainly the option to play it in a roguelike permadeath mode also differentiates it significantly, but until you’ve played it quite a bit and learned the ropes that absolutely wouldn’t be the recommended path to take. In another touch that reminds me of the original Legend of Zelda there’s not a whole lot in the game that is explained to you, for the most part you’ll need to wing it and learn as you go. Know that both secrets and death are around just about every corner and you’ll have the basic gist, but in particular some of the things you’ll find lethal can be surprising at first. This is simply because there’s quite a lot that will will you and not all of it is imposing and obvious, it’s often the little things that can wear you down.

Another piece of the puzzle that requires some time to work out, and not entirely for good reasons, is that the challenge isn’t just a procedurally-generated map but also trying to read it. The map is helpful to a degree but in particular when you’re in dungeons trying to navigate is tough enough, not understanding what the various symbols and markings on the map mean can add to your woes. This same screen includes another area that’s not ideal and that’s your item management interface. Switching out which items are equipped in which slots is workable but very cumbersome and not terribly intuitive. It isn’t hard to accidentally move from your inventory and back to the mini map without meaning to do so. This is something that you can get used to but it is certainly a rough spot.

If you’ve ever wondered what a procedurally-generated roguelike Zelda could look like Songbringer takes a fair shot at it, just be warned that it can be a little rough around the edges. The option to up the stakes and play in Permadeath mode is an interesting one but should only be undertaken once you’ve taken some time to get used to how things work. Your ability to explore and get into areas that are a bit beyond your capabilities is exciting but could also make for frustration if death means having to start all over again before you’ve really gotten your feet wet. That said, it has a gift for the unexpected and you truly never know what you may encounter next.

Score: 7.5

  • Some classic gaming beats reminiscent of classics like The Legend of Zelda
  • Plenty of personality and ideas of its own, like an ability to combine items/skills for new effects
  • Permadeath and the ability to share your game seed with others are great options to have

  • There’s a learning curve for how things work and what is lethal, with the game providing limited guidance
  • The mini map and inventory system are a bit clunky
  • In terms of difficulty be aware it trends above average as a whole, though that may be a product of the procedural generation so it may very well vary from seed to seed