A pixelated beauty

If I asked you what the most important part of any video game is, what would you say it is? The correct (if boring) answer is that it depends on the context. But for a second, let’s pretend the answer is “the world.” What’s a game to do if it can’t offer you an alluring world to explore? Fortunately, Songbringer doesn’t have to worry about that. Slated for release sometime later this year, WizardFu’s action adventure knows how to craft a world. Although it still has some worms to work out, my early experiences with Songbringer show a lot of promise.

Some of that is because of where the game finds inspiration. The game plays like The Legend of Zelda as interpreted by Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: you move your pixelated hero from screen to screen, exploring dungeons, collecting treasures, and slashing away at fantasy baddies. Yet what stood out for me was the game’s pixel art aesthetic. Songbringer clearly knows what to borrow from the Superbrothers side of things, given how much life the art breathes into the landscape. The soil carries a worn texture, and you can almost touch the stone tiles that line the dungeon floors. Even the fights have a powerful energy that they’d lack without this art.

And navigating all this is a slender hero who would look more at home in an Atari game. Of course, I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I only bring it up to show just how much control Songbringer has. It does what a lot of games don’t: paint a vivid picture without leaving the old school aesthetic. I can’t understate how hard a balance this is for many games. Some titles sacrifice detail by embracing the retro, whereas others render detail so well that we forget they’re even trying to be pixel art. Yet Songbringer avoids both these problems… admittedly, by cheating a little bit. I occasionally spotted the odd lighting effect/reflection/smooth gradient that’s not possible when rendering this art by hand. Still, given what the game can achieve without those fancy effects, I’m more than willing to overlook their use.

I’m slightly more wary of the gameplay issues I encountered. For as richly rendered as the world is visually, it proves to be disappointingly sparse when it comes to doing things. Not that the game is mechanically flat; its mechanics are solid enough to work with. The problem is that the game’s structure hardly reflects that. Zelda-esque dungeons aside, there’s very little reason to explore the world. No items to find, no people to talk to; nothing. The closest I could find might have been an item crafting system, but substantial glitches in this build prevented me from investigating that any further. This leaves us with only enemies for fighting. As strong as the combat is, it’s nowhere near robust enough to hold up an entire game.

But given how early in development this game is, I feel that I should stress that these problems aren’t a fault of the game’s design. As such, I don’t hold many of them against the game. Songbringer’s various elements work quite well, and they as a strong foundation for what’s to come. I ultimately look forward to see how the game will deliver on its promises when it releases later this year.

  • I’m very skeptical of this art style, and any style that could’ve been done decades ago but never was.

    we forget they’re even trying to be pixel art (http://www.dinofarmgames.com/a-pixel-artist-renounces-pixel-art/)

    That’s the gem in this article. Regular people can’t appreciate form and composition in the abstract, as illustrated by the Zelda / Bubsy side-by-side in the link. That’s where the real divide between games that are ugly and games that are beautiful resides.

    EDITED: Link didn’t stick.