I am not usually a fan of cute games. Cute has become a crutch for many game designers in the wake of Japanese “kawaii” culture invading over the last couple decades. I have seen and played many games that just plain suck but are cute to get those sales. While Songbird Symphony did not initially call to me, after being billed as a “metroidvania meets Guitar Hero” game I knew it was something I had to try.
Songbird Symphony, from developer Joysteak Studios, introduces us to the hero of the game, Birb, as you the player help him crack open his egg and enter the world. The first thing Birb sees is this goofy looking peacock named Uncle Pea who ends up adopting and raising the little bird. Fast forward a bit and little Birb just doesn’t fit in with the flock and wants to know why he is so different. He sets off to see the wise old owl for answers.
The owl tells Birb he will help him find out about his parents and where he came from if he can acquire all the notes needed to grant his wish. He then teaches the little bird a new note and teaches the player the basic gameplay for boss encounters. Songbird Symphony is not like most side scroller adventures in that there is literally no combat but instead “battles” consists of Guitar Hero-esque button presses in time with the music.
Music is a huge part of Songbird Symphony and I cannot say enough good things about it. Where there are no words, the game uses different tones to represent them and it works perfectly. Songs are not just part of boss encounters. As Birb travels around levels he will find different puzzles or NPC that ask him to complete a task. Upon completing these a new segment of that levels theme song will join the tune. After they are all finished the theme for the level becomes more complex and nuanced. It is a very novel idea and adds even more to the charm of Songbird Symphony.
Songs themselves are catchy and I found myself tapping my foot to the beat all the time. While Birb cannot die and there is no violence in Songbird Symphony, don’t let that lead to you thinking this is a childish and easy game. It is not. Some of the boss encounters are very challenging and the level of difficulty increases immensely by the time you have a full selection of notes to use. Thankfully the game is also very forgiving and will still let you move the story forward even if you have a hard time keeping up. But the replay value is there as you can go back and repeat these, increasing your skill level each time hopefully.
The adventure Birb undertakes in Songbird Symphony is full of interesting characters and fantastic level design. I love the tale of an underdog and outcast finding his place in the world, defending other outcasts and gaining friends along the way. Graphically the game takes a more retro approach, reminiscent of the 16bit SNES era. It works perfectly though and is quite charming. I particularly love the antagonist gang of birds who each challenge Birb to a sing-off as the game progresses.
While not particularly long Songbird Symphony is still an experience for all ages that I cannot recommend enough. The game is adorable but can also hold its own in terms of gameplay and story. The music is some of the best I have ever heard in an indie title. If you enjoy metroidvania games and rhythm games, Songbird Symphony is a must play. I hope we get to see more from Joysteak and Birb in the future.