Sound and music have been a core part of gaming since the early days, from the ‘boop’ in Pong, to the unmistakable Ground Theme from Super Mario Bros. World 1-1. Of all the ways that gaming has evolved, blending music with gameplay might be one of the most underappreciated advancements. We’ve all experienced that moment when the music shifts, warning us to save our progress and prepare for the boss fight ahead. These days it’s not uncommon for a full orchestra to rise up during epic action or intensely emotional moments. The fact is, good music and sound can dramatically elevate a game.
The description for Songs for a Hero: A Lenda do Herói on Steam reads: “This humorous old-school platformer features a fully dynamic soundtrack that reacts to your every input, meaning that the hero will always sing and crack jokes about whatever is happening to him, whenever it happens.” I was intrigued to see just how “dynamic” the lyrics of this game could be and how it might enhance the experience. At the very least I figured I was in for some catchy tunes and funny lyrics. Unfortunately, the game’s approach to blending a musical with a 2-D side scrolling platformer was more basic than I could have imagined. It’s important to point out that the game was created by a small indie dev out of Brazil, and that it was originally narrated in Portuguese. The original apparently received high praise so I’m sad to report that anything extraordinary about this game was lost in translation.
You play as a nameless hero traversing a bright fantasy world full of monsters and pitfalls. Armed with a sword, shield, and a few other magical skills and weapons, you’ll need to make your way across the land to rescue a princess from a mysterious foe. The game begins with a very cryptic and well performed voice-over. The princess’s face is veiled and her message is distorted but clearly pleading for your help. At the end of each level you get another snippet but after 5 hours with the game a coherent narrative never formed.
All you need to know is you’re both the hero of this story and the narrator, a voice in your own head, singing out your basic actions and mundane thoughts. Here’s a few lines from different areas of the game that highlight the manotamy:
“Snakes in my way won’t cut any slack,
Even when I’m jumping I must attack”.
“No matter the height, there’s a pattern that won’t break.
I can rest assured I’ll always find a snake”.
“I must use my whole skillset, if I am to proceed.
But still, the exit is hard to find indeed.”
Verses go on like that, egregiously stretching syllables in a way that makes it clear the writer had marching orders to achieve a rhyme at all costs. I can’t say how much this version deviates from the original game, but I can only guess there was a much better flow in the original Portugeese. The cadence is just so unpleasant I couldn’t go a minute without questioning why a game that revolved so heavily around music and lyrics would even receive a language port.
I really can’t describe how grating and annoying the tone of the narrator is. You really have to hear this for yourself. Lines are delivered with a pitchy, nasal screech. If i tried to sing a song in an irritating way this would be my go-to voice to emulate. I think the hyper enthusiastic delivery is meant to be funny but it comes off as pure torture.
The gameplay and environments are so one-note that there literally isn’t much source material to play with, so in that regard the game dolling out hours upon hours of lyrics is an achievement. Levels are cut into three bite-sized acts and come in standard platformer flavors (forest, pyramid, snow, etc.) sadly each contain only a handful of enemy types (snake, monkey, bat) so there literally isn’t much to write home about.
Using a strict interpretation of the word you could call the lyrics “dynamic”. Take damage or find a secret area and you’ll belt out a few related lines, but for the most part lyrics are triggered when you reach invisible markers in the level. Miss and jump and die you’re taken back to a checkpoint and the lyrics mercifully don’t repeat and only continue when you progress further and hit the next trigger.
From a gameplay standpoint the game is passable. Your character is very weighty but responsive. The platforming is basic and not much of a challenge. Enemies will throw the occasional projectile, ground tiles may fall away, and occasionally you’ll use skills like a fireball or short period of invulnerability to get past lite puzzle barriers. Honestly, I died more from being focused on tuning out the incessant music than any challenge that was created by design. You can collect coins but there’s nothing worthwhile in the lone store in town to purchase. Medal and note collectibles don’t seem to pair with any incentive so I didn’t go out of my way to find hidden chests.
Visuals are on another level entirely compared to the rest of the game. Songs for a Hero mimics the vibrant and cartoony hand drawn art style of the Wonder Boy/Monster Boy series. I appreciated the vibrant color palette and fun enemy designs. End-level bosses are undoubtedly the standout aspect of the game. I perked up during these segments when the action ramped up and I had to learn the attack patterns of these large intimidating monsters. The fights are well designed, feature screen filling flashy animations, and importantly feature no singing. I looked forward to this much needed break every half hour or so.
So there’s no technical achievement at play or Tony Award winning musical numbers here, and that’s understandable given the language barrier. Remove the excruciatingly annoying tone of the narrator and you’ll find that Songs for a Hero is a serviceable platformer. It’s just a shame that I can’t recommend the game. Suffering through the music is just too much to ask for so little in return.