I can’t believe that I’m typing this, but how many games allow you to play as a cute singing bird that prominently has its round little butt in display during the opening cutscene? As far as my (admittedly low amount of) research has yielded, there’s only one – Joysteak Studios’ adorable title, Songbird Symphony.
Usually here I would put something really snarky about the story, but a tale as wholesome as this wouldn’t suit it, it would be like kicking a puppy. Songbird Symphony follows the journey of Birb, a tiny bird raised by the peacock that found them as an egg, Uncle Pea. After a short level of singing and being generally adorable, Birb is bullied and laughed at by the other peacocks.
This, and the not-entirely-handled-well conversation with their Uncle, leaves Birb dejected and alone. So, they embark on a journey to meet the wise owl of the forest, to try to find their real parents. The story is admittedly a little ludicrous at points, but there’s no denying that it has heart and if you have a soft spot for cuteness, you’ll be rooting for this little bird the whole way.
A way you’ll be making through a mix of rhythm action and platforming, with a little puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. The platforming itself is pretty basic, relying on simple jumps and glides to make your way around. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, simplicity is a great thing. It just isn’t doing anything new here, unlike with the puzzling and with the rhythm aspects.
The puzzles usually involve singing notes and moving blocks to progress, with a reset button in each puzzle in case you make a mistake. On occasion you might need to juggle multiple puzzle elements at once – with the help of your eggshell companion, Eggbert. These puzzles are great little palette cleansers from the platforming, but (for better or worse) are rarely challenging.
Then there’s the songs themselves which, as you would expect, involve correct button presses (or holds) in time to the music. It’s all pretty simple to begin with, but soon adds additional buttons to press, shifts to different visual structures with the notes, or increases the tempo. The difficulty curve is a pretty steady increase as you progress, resulting in some very tough songs later in the game.
One thing that I really love about this game is how music permeates all aspects of the gameplay, not just the songs and puzzles. There’s musical notes for each area denoting a puzzle needing to be solved or particular creature needing aid. If you succeed in getting the note, a new instrument will be layered onto the background music, fleshing out the sound as you explore.
Finally, there’s the last core gameplay element, the fact that the game is has surprising hints of Metroidvania in its world design. The areas often cycle back on themselves in unexpected ways, and have hidden sections you can’t access without the right notes, or gates that need you to have of the level notes to open. It gives a real incentive to explore and to return to previous areas.
This means that Songbird Symphony contains a lot to do; with the various songs to get through (and master), lost feathers to find and match to their owners, and a whole host of animal critters to interact with. Then there’s other optional content like Birb’s diary, which is not only adorable (and a little emotional at times), but gives clues on where to go if you get lost.
Songbird Symphony is as much a joy to behold and hear as it looks from these screenshots. All of the areas are bright, colourful and feel alive, with creatures wandering all over while you explore. Birb is a fantastically expressive character, full of bounce even while stationary, and will even dance to the music in the background as their idle animation. Cute doesn’t cover it.
Like any rhythm game though, the soundtrack has to be great, and Birb and company definitely deliver. All of the tracks, from the ‘performable’ songs to the background tracks are catchy and perfectly reflect the tone and feel of the game. Also, the previously mentioned gameplay feature of the background music slowly building works a treat for adding tangible reason to explore.
Songbird Symphony isn’t without it’s problems though, with the most egregious issue being that the timing during some songs is a little off. It’s never enough to cause you to fail, as the structures and such change, but it’s not a great thing for a rhythm game. Also, the old saying ‘jack of all trades’ comes to mind here, as the amount of elements of the game hold it back from being truly great at any individual one.
This being said, Joysteak Studios have a created a unique and playful experience here that never ceases to cause a smile with its combination of funny writing and expressive animations. For a rhythm-platformer-Metroidvania, it does a reasonable job of pulling the disparate elements together. Songbird Symphony is an easy-going and joyously child-like adventure, despite sometimes losing its rhythm (sorry).