It’s rare that a game so instantly grabs my attention and focus in the same way as Songbird Symphony did. I installed the quirky platformer in the early afternoon, and didn’t put down the controller until the credits rolled late that evening, exhausted and profoundly satisfied.
Joysteak Studio‘s “platformer with a musical twist” is a sheer joy to play, from beginning to end. The story is at once unique and familiar; the gameplay is a fabulous blend of classic platforming with musical / rhythmic elements; the design is retro and charming without feeling outdated.
From start to finish, Songbird Symphony charmed me, and has made itself a nest in my heart.
Read on for my take on the game’s story, gameplay and design.
Story: Of Home, Family, and Song
🎵 We all want to
Find a place where we feel
Like we truly belong 🎶
At it’s heart, Songbird Symphony is a coming-of-age story. You play as a chick named Birb, an energetic ball of fluff raised by a kindly (if eccentric) peacock called Uncle Pea. On realising that he is not a peacock, Birb elects to journey off into the world on his own to discover where in the world he belongs. In his journey, he meets many other birds. From those birds, he gains new notes to add to his songs, makes new friends, and learns important lessons about himself, about family, and about belonging.
It’s a story we’ve seen before in countless iterations, but Songbird Symphony‘s execution of the trope is masterful. Joysteak describes their creation as “Disneyesque”, and there’s a lot of truth to that. You’ll feel like you’re accompanying this tiny bird on an adventure of epic scale, full of song, danger, and excitement. Unless your heart is carved from a cold, diamond-hard stone, it’s impossible to be unmoved by the adorable, indefatigable Birb.
Gameplay: Puzzles, Platforms and Pitch in Songbird Symphony
At its heart, Songbird Symphony is a puzzle platformer. Push blocks, stand on buttons and use a combination of jumps and glides to traverse the forest. However, the integration of rhythm and musical elements is what makes the platforming elements pop. In order to activate platform elements and mechanisms, you must sing the correct notes with the correct timing. The timing is linked with the beat of the currently playing ambient music, which is a lovely touch.
The other kind of gameplay is the musical “boss battles”, for want of a better term. Each time Birb encounters a new kind of bird, you enter a call-and-response duet that challenges your timing and reactions. Because each bird’s song is unique, the mechanics of these duets vary, keeping each encounter fresh. At the end of each duet, Birb learns a new “note” – corresponding to a button on your keyboard or controller – increasing his musical repertoire. As a result, these duets grow in complexity as the game progresses.
That said, while the complexity and difficulty undeniably ramps up, especially towards the end, the game never becomes inaccessible. All that is required to “pass” a section is to participate in it – you can try again, if you want to, but the game will never prevent you from advancing the story because you can’t master one style of song. The gameplay is a vehicle for the design and story, and the developers wisely prevent it from interfering in either. Speaking of design…
Design: Retro Style, Modern Skill
Songbird Symphony‘s distinctive, retro style combines modern sensibilities with a classic execution and palette. Above all, Joysteak’s passion and humour shines through in every creative decision. The character design, in particular, stands out. Each bird, from the pompous chickens, to the raucous kookaburras, to the mysterious bowerbirds, are lovingly represented. Furthermore, the designers have managed to do an awful lot with their limited number of pixels, including top-notch animations that really bring the birds to life.
The game’s audio design is, understandably, top-notch. Each area’s ambient music conveys the tone expertly, and the matching “boss-battle” duets are simultaneously unique and fitting to the overall game. Karaoke-style lyrics on these songs do a phenomenal job of creating the illusion of singing, despite the entire game being unvoiced. If that’s not impressive audio design, I don’t know what is. Of course, the concept of song and singing is crucial to the game’s story.
Songbird Symphony‘s quirky sense of humour, heartwarming story, delightful gameplay and distinctive soundtrack make for an utterly unforgettable experience. Clear an afternoon to join Birb on his journey of self-discovery, and prepare yourself to be moved and enthralled. You won’t regret it.