Songbringer gets tuned up with a new boss and difficulty


It’s always been a surprise to me that last year’s Songbringer didn’t catch on more, especially given John’s gushing review. Hot on the heels of the likes of Hyper Light Drifter, it presented a similar brand of deliciously pixelly hack n’ slashery, but paired to a remarkably robust rogue-ish template. Perhaps today’s free piece of DLC – The Trial Of Ren – will bring a few more players into the fold with promises of a dramatic new boss fight, quirky new gear and a new power to unlock.

The headlining fight of this update is a chance to cross swords with Ren, Brother of Kiel. Unlike his wild, punk-looking brother, Ren is a much more calm and calculating swordsman, full of fancy techniques and more likely to teleport around the arena unpredictably than just run at you screaming. Apparently Ren is now is one of the toughest fights in the game.

There are also a pair of new craftable pieces of gear. One fairly bland, one incredibly cool and a must-have for anyone. First is a flamethrower, which shoots fire. All well and good, but the Hyper Boots just seem vastly more entertaining. A pair of high-tech shoes that not only make you faster, but leave a lightning mine on the ground with every step you take. In a room full of baddies it immediately turns the game into a stunning (and hard to comprehend) lightshow. There’s a few new things besides that, but those do seem the most notable.

Probably the thing that interests me most about the update is The Cursed Ring. A new artifact item that effectively increases the difficulty of the whole game, up to and including giving bosses new attack patterns to deal with. Rank-and-file enemy fodder are also tougher and more damaging, but the fact the developer went back and added new code to every boss fight in the game impresses me. Then again, I’ve always had a soft-spot for Hard Modes that actually change the game in fun, meaningful ways.

Before this, the game did receive six other updates, each one adding some variety of interesting new features. You can view the full patch-log for the game past and present here. The game is currently half price over on Steam, bringing it down to £8/$10.


  1. poliovaccine says:

    It’s weird the sorts of things that can make or break appeal sometimes. This is something I should probably love, if you go by gameplay and themes, but of all things, the rigidity of each “screen,” similar to old adventure games, is what put me off. I found it disorienting in this game, in particular, and I just kept wanting it to scroll instead of “snap” over. I swear that’s what kept me from getting too invested, tho I gather from John’s review I owe it more of a fair shake.

    But sometimes you just have a hangup, and that was it for me. For whatever reason I can deal with that separate-screens approach when it’s a side-on view, but top down just felt too weird, hard to even articulate why.

    • Cronstintein says:

      For me it was the procedural generation that dissuaded me from giving it a chance. I like the hand-crafted nature of HLD; each secret and enemy is thoughtfully placed. You can have very challenging battle rooms because the setback for failure is very small. I can’t imagine having a good time with HLD as a roguelike, so I didn’t try this game. It suffered for the comparison.

      All that said, at it’s reduced price and with the free update, I’m going to give it a shot this time around.

    • LexW1 says:

      I don’t think it’s just a hangup, actually.

      The way the screens are done is nice as a tribute to old-school Zelda and so on, but it presents a couple of problems:

      1) As a result of this and the visual design, the exits/entrances to areas are often difficult to see. This can lead to a ton of pointless backtracking and wandering around, or if not a ton, enough to break the flow of the game. Having replayed some of the games that inspired Songbringer, this is a problem with them too.

      2) I think it also makes it harder to remember where things are even after you’ve found them, and to visualize the game, and whilst I seem to recall there is a map, it wasn’t very helpful.

      If it was hand-designed, like early Zeldas, the level design could mitigate this (as it does in say Zelda III), focusing on memorable sequences of screens.

      Instead, because it’s procedurally generated, we get a lot of individually memorable screens, often very very memorable, but with far less sense of flow or how they connect. Without the memorable sequences, navigation doesn’t work as well and atmosphere has to be generated more by individual screens than the overall effect.

      There will be some people for whom this is totally not an issue, I feel sure, but for me, it was an issue.

  2. Viral Frog says:

    Honestly, John’s review is sort of why I haven’t gone for it. There are other reasons, money, time, and backlog. But John’s review is definitely a part of it. I don’t agree with John on anything. So it’s hard for me to read any of his positive reviews and think, “boy, this game sure has to be worth playing.” It does LOOK good. But so do a lot of the other games John seems to love that I’ve hated 100% of the time. And vice versa, of course. I believe I’ve loved every game that John didn’t enjoy, unless my memory is failing me.

    • Viral Frog says:

      After posting, I realized this seems very rude. It’s not a personal qualm with John himself. It’s just that we both seem to have much, much different tastes in games. I do enjoy reading his writing! Just not so much his taste in games.

      Also my “100% of the time” thing is a bit off. I have disliked 100% of the games he’s reviewed positively. I haven’t played EVERY game he’s reviewed. Not yet, anyway.

      • Viral Frog says:

        Also my “100% of the time” thing is a bit off. I have disliked 100% of the games he’s reviewed positively THAT I HAVE PLAYED. I haven’t played EVERY game he’s reviewed. Not yet, anyway.

        Gods, why is the edit button gone again?

    • durrbluh says:

      I unfortunately fall into the same boat. I don’t actively dislike John, but whenever he fervently endorses a game I was looking forward to, I cringe. The man is like some sort of truffle hog that has the unenviable knack for unearthing turds rather than delectable fungi.

      Now, if all the games he actively hated were good ones, he’d be some sort of Bizarro Reviewer. Confusing, but reliable.

    • solamon77 says:

      I hate to agree because I’m not trying to personally attack John, but you are completely right. I just don’t seem to agree with too many of his game opinions.

      I hadn’t noticed it until his review of Hollow Knight last year, a game that I considered one of the best Metroidvania I ever played (and I’ve played a lot, it’s my fav genre), but he viewed as samey and derivative.

      Afterwards, I went back through the RPS review archives and noticed that most of the reviews where I felt misled had been written by John Walker. Anymore, if he recommends something, it’s a huge knock on the game in my book.

    • TheDreamlord says:

      Same with me. I will also say that this is no criticism to JW, tastes are tastes after all, but in this particular instance I bought the game and I found it to be derivative and quite frankly rather crap. Ugly, bad combat, nonsensical, confusing …. I just cannot see what he found good about it.
      And Hollow Knight is one of the best games evah!

    • noodlecake says:

      I think there was a degree of that with me but there were other things too. Hyper Light Drifter is one of my favourite games ever. Visually this just doesn’t work quite as well and the fact that John hated Hyper Light Drifter but liked this makes me think that they aren’t very much alike. Plus the way he described it made it seem like it wasn’t as good so I just didn’t really give it a second thought.

  3. Hoot says:

    John’s a great writer (and I know no one is disputing that) but I just felt like I should drop in as a counter-point to the above comments.

    I find that I usually agree with John’s reviews / impressions of games. If he writes a scathingly bad review I know that for me personally, that game isn’t going to be worth my time. If he writes a glowing review of a game I know that I will be wish-listing it if I don’t have the time/money to buy it on release.

    That’s just in general, though. Genre preference and individual impressions guide my purchases as much as reviews by sources I trust.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Yeah I’ll second that, just for saying’s sake. For as many folks seem to magnetically repel from John Walker and his opinions, I tend to see him as someone I can trust to call out the emperor’s new clothes. Hollow Knight IS samey and derivative – it’s exemplary of a well established type, but it’s not, of all things, original. Mafia III *was* godawful, no matter how much people wanted to believe otherwise before they actually played it (me included, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of that series up til III came out). He tends to share values I seek and, of those, most important is the fact that he is genuinely *critical* in his writing as a critic. Sometimes I read a review or a premature evaluation here and, after many anecdotes and laughs, I still can’t tell if I’m interested in the game or not. John Walker’s pieces never leave me with that problem. He’s decisive and articulate, and that counts for so much more in a critic than the capacity for charitable opinions.

      Basically, I feel like John is the only one who consistently notes flaws, even in what he likes. That makes plenty of people react as if he hated something he actually reviewed well, but it also makes him fairly unique amongst the RPS stable. He’s about as critical as I am as a buyer, when it comes to allocating my finite amount of hard earned cash for entertainment. Because I may be able to feel much more charitable about something sucking if I got it for free, rather than if it’s something I worked a few hours to buy. His personal rubric seems to be held against the strop of time and money being finite in this life, and only the best being good enough to publically praise. And in a world inundated with democratized infinite content, that’s goddamned key.

      Watching people have fun is fun, but as a consumer’s guide, may John Walker never change.

  4. DantronLesotho says:

    I really enjoyed Songbringer and thought John’s comments on it were pretty dead on. Also John is great. And Songbringer is great.

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