Imagine the plight of the PC-only gamer sighing longingly as console players enjoy wondrous new experiences they could only dream of. What’s this “Zelda” thing that inspires devotion year after year, across consoles and platforms? Truly, where is a PC gamer to get a taste for the classic, 1984-era Zelda experience, except in their dreams?
Developer: Wizard Fu Games
MonsterVine was supplied with Steam code for review
I exaggerate some, but Songbringer is a lovingly-created PC version of classic Legend of Zelda with a new skin on top. You’ll find the mandatory hallmarks of latter-day indie development–pixel graphics, semi-vaporwave soundtrack, developed by a single guy–centered firmly in place, but the beating heart of the beast is the classic overworld/underworld structure and simple but tricky combat.
The story is there to provide a wrapper: Man falls out of spaceship sans shirt, finds a sword, takes the sword, has to fight his way forward through a strange and hallucinogenic world full of creatures trying to kill him. Turn the boomerang into a top hat if you like, but the darn thing comes back when thrown and knocks enemies backward. It’s a boomerang.
Songbringer’s big twist is procedural generation. Each adventure begins with picking a five letter word to serve as a seed for the new world. Pick a different word and things change completely. The major elements remain the same: quests to fetch people things, dungeons full of goodies, monsters that attack in predictable patterns.
The world itself may be completely different, from the look and feel to the location of the items. This can turn a simple game into an impossible task. Some maps can be fun and challenging adventures. Some can be nigh-impossible Ironman runs because healing items are impossible to find. The only way to find out is by going forward, plunging into the depths and seeing what lurks there.
During one of my runs, I found a location that endlessly spawned enemies that dropped hearts. Moving forward was relatively easy and could be brute-forced. Charge ahead, kill what you can, retreat and rest up. Another map had a completely different feel: Healing items and heart-dropping monsters were few and far between, requiring caution and planning and dying a lot.
And that’s the key to whether you’ll enjoy Songbringer. If you’re a member of the “losing is fun” school where you may be screwed from the initial seed, but finding that out is half the fun, there’s a very nice little game at work here. There’s some small gripes: The pixel art can make it hard to tell what’s an actual enemy and what’s decorative. Likewise, doorways and decorative panels can run together, simply because there’s only so many pixels to indicate what kind of object you’re looking at.
The Final Word
On the whole, if the overland adventure/subterranean dungeon crawl genre strike your fancy and if you dig on the modern indie aesthetic, you’re going to find a lot of procedurally-generated ground you’ll dig exploring. Assuming you can find a health potion.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair