A Tiny Chirp
I’ve played dozens of indie games on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve quickly come to find that most of them fall into the “slightly above average” category. There are unique traits in those games and things or mechanics they do particularly well. However, other missteps, be it graphical, mechanical, or otherwise, prevent those games from soaring beyond the competition. That was largely the impression I got playing Songbird Symphony, a charming and cute adventure that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but probably won’t leave you with any lasting impressions.
Henlo, I Am Birb
Songbird Symphony puts you in the tiny talons of Birb, a young chick who hatched from an egg only to be raised by a peacock. After an effective opening (both narratively and gameplay-wise), we follow Birb as it gets picked on by the other peacocks for not looking like them. Then, Birb sets out on an adventure to figure out what kind of bird he is and has to travel to each corner of the forest to do so.
The story has an overarching theme and does have some twists along the way, but they can be called a mile away. That said, the draw for me wasn’t in certain plot events, but more how the likeable characters were going to interact in certain situations. It was the emotional beats that invested me in the narrative. The game isn’t subtle in its themes or its characters, and it’s extremely predictable in all aspects, but it made for a nice, soothing experience.
There’s something a bit juvenile about playing as a character named “Birb,” but the game is never invested in meme culture that it ever really bothered me. As a matter of fact, Birb is perhaps the best character in the game. Every one of Birb’s animations ranges from cute to downright adorable. Even when the little guy is said, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by just how cute he is. That said, I do wish the care in Birb’s animations was reflected in the other characters.
Birb is the right balance of pixel art style and fluid movement, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the characters. Many of them are locked into one animation loop that you’re forced to see throughout their interactions with Birb. It makes many of those characters feel a bit flat and not quite as expressive. The game does have some goofy animations, which are good for a laugh or two, but they can often distract from crucial story beats. They can also become quite boring to see.
Song and Dance
Songbird Symphony has two styles of gameplay: exploration and songs. In exploration, Songbird Symphony is a puzzle platformer, having players go through levels, pushing boxes, collecting items, and progressing to the next area. In the songs, Songbird Symphony becomes a rhythm game in which you must repeat or time certain notes to get high scores.
I must say that Songbird Symphony feels like a rhythm game first and a puzzle platformer second. Birb’s controls aren’t bad and the puzzles themselves aren’t that complex, but the gameplay is mostly the same from beginning to end. There aren’t many new challenges, rather just remixes on things you’ve seen before. There are also some irritating omissions from this style of play, like a map or any sort of compass mechanic at all. It’s easy to get lost at a few points. Think of something like Toki Tori, just not quite as refined.
One Tweet And That’s It
Ultimately, where Songbird Symphony shines is in its rhythm sections. Birb will do battle with all kinds of different birds. Here is where the game not only makes great use of its soundtrack, but does a bit of world-building as well. Each corner of the map is inhabited by a different species of bird. Each bird has its own genre of music when battling with Birb. Different tones and instruments help to define the songs of different birds, and it goes a long way to sell the player on this idea of a music-based world.
Furthermore, there are several different ways the game has players repeating songs. One moment, you’ll be “catching” notes as they drop down to the screen. The next, you’ll be following them as they bounce toward you. There is a lot of diversity with the songs and how you play them, which helps to make Songbird Symphony unique from its competition.
That said, the difficulty in the songs can seem quite inconsistent. While there is a general difficulty curve, it’s in the middle of the game where some of the visual cues don’t work as well as others. As a result, you can often find yourself fumbling the buttons like you’re playing through your first round of Super Smash Bros. I was surprised at how challenging the game was at times. Don’t let its cute pixel art and animations fool you.
I don’t want to sell the rhythm mechanics short, though. Joysteak did an excellent job making each rhythm challenge different from the last both musically and mechanically. There are diverse visual cues that keep things interesting, which culminates in quite the impressive finale.
Songbird Symphony is a very short game. The game can be completed in just a few hours. That’s including all the collectible feathers hidden throughout the adventure (which are there to just give players something optional to nab). If you’re looking for a long experience, then keep this in mind. That said, I respect that this game knew how long it needed to be. The pacing is consistent, and it’s easy to get hooked and finish it one sitting. It’s a quick burn, but it makes it so the game never gets boring or stays too long.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Songbird Symphony was provided by the publisher.