Songbird Symphony is akin to an animated Disney film in that it is family-friendly, obviously lovable by a young audience, but still very approachable by adults thanks to its art, wit, and personality. The humor and emotional story elements found within will be as appealing to adult players as they are to younger players. Don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you though – Songbird Symphony presents some gruelingly difficult rhythm challenges that will keep you on your toes. This colorful title releases PC and consoles tomorrow, July 25th.
Nearly everyone can relate to a feeling of being an outsider or being bullied at some point in their lives. Searching for a place of belonging is the main theme of Songbird Symphony. The story follows the antics of Birb, a sweet hatchling of unknown origin who was reared by Uncle Pea, the Peacock who found Birb as an abandoned egg. Birb is acutely aware that the other peacocks view him as an outsider and he wants to know who his real parents are, so he goes to visit the wise Owl in the forest for help.
Owl sends young Birb on a quest to learn the songs of other bird species in order to activate a magical artifact that will help them locate Birb’s parents. The narrative, which exudes charm and personality, alternates between heartwarming and heartbreaking during Birb’s quest. I couldn’t wait to get to each new area to see what would happen in Birb’s tale.
Songbird Symphony is cheerful and bright, with a delightful, cartoon flair. Environments are extremely detailed and feature a menagerie of wildlife to interact with as you explore the different areas in and around the forest. I normally write a separate section about audio, but music in Songbird Symphony is of utmost importance to all areas of the game, so I consider it an integral part of the game’s overall presentation. Songbird Symphony is literally a musical with full sets of lyrics in each song used in the rhythm challenges!
As you explore you will discover little secrets and solve puzzles that grant music note collectibles. Every collected note adds a new musical element to the background music until the symphony of the respective zone is complete. I thought this was very clever!
Visual humor and puns are abundant, as well as highly amusing, grin inducing dialogue. Both my partner and I were chuckling at the prissy princess hen, the miner myna birds, and especially the happy go lucky kookaburras and their corny jokes.
Gameplay in Songbird Symphony cycles between three modes: platforming, puzzles, and rhythm challnges. The 2D platforming is a breeze and exploration is calm and zen-like. The puzzles you will encounter are more often easy than challenging, and the game unfortunately suffers from pacing issues between these gameplay modes. There are long stretches of puzzle elements with no breaks for rhythm challenges that become notably tiresome.
Regarding the rhythm sections, the first two songs are the easiest, but difficulty ramp-up is normal for introducing an audience to the game, so I did not see this as a problem. Each of the later song starts with simpler phrases of notes and gets more complex by the end. Those more complex sections of songs felt like a sweet spot of difficulty to me. There were neat “copycat” sections in later zones that I enjoyed, where one bird sings notes and you repeat their phrase as if dueling.
In an inexplicably strange design decision, the player feedback text for accuracy (Good, Great, Miss, etc.) covers up oncoming notes in most songs, heavily affecting note readability. This text should have been positioned off to the side. It would also help to have the arrow keys larger or colored so they are more readable at times when they quickly fly across the screen in a blur. In handheld mode the arrow key notes are exceptionally tiny and hard to see, even more so than docked mode. There is intentional screen shake during a few songs that I strongly disliked and made me borderline dizzy.
Songbird Symphony has a plethora of creative, unique ideas that trip themselves up in their execution. There are simply too many needless, unfun, arbitrary difficulty mechanics that appear in the second half of the game. It as if one of the developers declared in a meeting one day “This game is too easy! Let’s make it harder!” then started peppering poorly considered mechanics all over the place, souring the flavor of the game.
The worst offender is a mechanic introduced in the third zone (above) where the notes “strobe” randomly in and out of visibility from 100% to 0% opacity against the background. I can see where the team was trying to add difficulty and variation, but honestly, these sections, and a few others, are unfairly difficult to visually parse, even after multiple attempts. I was having a fabulous time until I first encountered this mechanic for the which made that portion of the song essentially unplayable. This was a crying shame because it was a lovely song.
When I found myself getting those parts of rhythm challenges right, it felt like lucky guesses, not skill or learning. When players make mistakes, they can usual tell if it was their own skill deficiency or if it was something unfair in the execution. Nearly all the second half of Songbird’s rhythm challenges are plagued with this problem. The best sections of rhythm gameplay were where there were easily readable, clean looking, yet challenging strings of notes. I found myself wishing every song had been as enjoyable as those.
Final Note: 6.5/10
Songbird Symphony exists in the midst of an target audience identity crisis. It is going to end up in the hands of casual and family gamers attracted by the whimsical presentation who will hit a difficulty cliff halfway through, become frustrated, and potentially give up. Gamers who like hardcore rhythm challenges are unlikely to be pulled in by the current marketing material. With that in mind, who Songbird Symphony is meant for is a mystery.
Contrary to my gameplay complaints, I truly enjoyed Songbird Symphony because it clearly has so much passion put into it, however I struggle to give it the high score I wish it would have earned. Its strengths are story, art, style, and the soundtrack, but so many of the gameplay elements are needlessly frustrating and unsatisfying. Consistently fun musical challenges would have bumped my rating up by at least a point and a half. Songbird Symphony speaks to missed potential and I genuinely hope it receives some tweaks in the coming months to clean up the rhythm challenges.
Thanks for reading!
Songbird Symphony Trailer – Game key kindly provided by PQube Games.
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