Just under a week ago, Pqube published the new indie music-themed platformer title Songbird Symphony by Joysteak Studios on to Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. This cute little game lets you play as a bird named Birb who is just looking to learn who he is and find where he belongs. When I tried the free demo they had before the game launched I was curious at how difficult the game would get, but what I ended up with was actually a little surprising for a couple reasons.
Birb is a strange little bird that is raised by his Uncle Pea, a music-loving peacock. While accepted by his Uncle, the other peacocks make fun of him and makes him want to learn what kind of bird he is so he can find where he belongs. Knowing that the smartest bird in the forest is the great Owl, he sets out to talk to the Owl to help him. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of a great journey for him to learn all the different notes that each bird in the forest can sing so that he can activate the artifact that can help him find his origin.
The thing I learned pretty quickly about this game is the lack of death zones. When you play a platformer game, typically there is a way to lose a life or take damage, but not in this game. Songbird Symphony is not a game of great challenge, but rather an experience for gamers of all skill levels to enjoy. While there are hidden items in the harder to reach areas of the map, it doesn’t take much skill to guide through the different platforming sections.
When going through each platform area of the game, you will hear a light form of music in the background. This music can be filled in by the various creatures and environments within the section of the world. As you interact with more things, you will unlock music notes of the area and this will directly correlate to a new sound being added to the background music. The first area of the game is the Forest and the first one you can find is that by guiding the bee to the flowers near the row of spiders they start a new chime rhythm that continues in this section of the map from then on. Every area has a different number of these, all different in their own way, and can be unlocked but they are mostly optional. There are a few pathways blocked off by a note count meaning to continue you will have to unlock them, but typically these are in areas where the only way to continue the journey is to complete aspects that unlock notes anyways.
Boss fights, mini-bosses, and major plot moments are all treated the same way. They are a singing set up that gradually get harder as you continue through the game. Every time one of these events are triggered, it will include the different notes that you have learned up to this point. Starting with the first note you learn from Uncle Pea to the last note you learn from [redacted spoiler name], the key moments only include what you learned to that point - maxing at six notes. They are listed according to what platform you are playing on and can be shown on the screen in many different forms.
The singing “fights” and “collaborations” are all unique in their own way. While they are story continuing and are actual songs, which are sung without the words by having the music rhythm follow along the words of the song listed on screen like most kid sing-along shows, the way they play out range from directly flowing down, spinning in a circle to reach a bar, to even a memorization section. It is always a “they do it first, you repeat” type of flow and they start out easy, but by the end of the game it gets rather difficult. There is a “No Fail” to the game, so just as you are safe from the platforming section of the game, you can’t lose these singing moments either.
Other than the overall platforming and singing sections of the game, there are a variety of puzzles throughout the journey. Some of these are the optional background music additions, but there are some needed to progress in the story. I’ll admit, they were a bit harder than I originally expected them to be given how kid-friendly the game has been, but overall doable. I can see kids playing this game being able to figure them out given enough time, but if you are the adult or older sibling in the situation, expect to have to solve one or few of these for them.
Graphics and Sounds
Visually the game is a cute, hyper-pixelated adventure. You can’t see the pixelation in most cases, but it is still obviously there. All of the different birds have their own dance style, which is fitting to their known attitude of the different species, so there is plenty to keep the attention for kids and adults alike.
The sound effects are pretty light, but use more as emphasis. Given the nature of this game, it makes sense for it to be set up like this so that you can focus more on the music side of things. As explained in the gameplay, the background music is based on how much effort you put into each area, but overall is fitting everywhere.
Other than going back through each section to unlock all the notes and find all the collectibles, or visiting the different song moments of the game in order to get a better grade, there really isn’t any reason to go back through the game. The journey, puzzles, and story will all be the same.
What Could Be Better
In this day of the game industry, it doesn’t make sense to not have multiple save state options for your game. Making it a one file game is an odd choice that should be considered to be updated. As someone who glitches games a lot, I almost soft locked myself into a section of the game near the end and thought I would have to restart. I managed to break out, but it gave me a short scare seeing how I was already four or five hours deep.
Having a game with a “No Fail” safety set up is an understandable set up, but I can’t help but feel that this should be an optional aspect to the game. While it is fine to be the default of the game and having a no death layout in the platforming section is not a problem, those that like the challenge of being forced to be successful in the song sections of the game should be able to check off the No Fail option so that there is a risk in the battle.
Songbird Symphony is a cute, fun platformer that is great for gamers of all ages! The music is enjoyable, for the most part, and the plot is exactly what you would expect from a kids movie. Loaded with bird puns and an almost odd amount of knowledge into bird ecology, this game has something to offer new and experienced gamers alike. Even the couple things that I listed that could use improvement aren’t things that really hinder the overall experience.