Start Date: September 5, 2016
End Date: September 5, 2016
After the epic undertaking that was The Swindle, I wanted to cool down with a quick, interesting little game. Every once in a while, when I’m in the mood for that kind of thing, I spend some time digging through the archives of Ludum Dare.
Ludum Dare is a popular “gamejam” – or if you prefer English to obnoxious slang, it’s a multi-annual competition which challenges developers to create games that fit a chosen theme. The developers only have 48 hours to make their games, so as you can imagine, 90% of the results are unplayable crap. But every Ludum Dare produces at least a handful of very clever, unique little games.
Birdsong, created by a guy called Managore, was the overall winner of Ludum Dare #31, the theme of which was “Entire Game on One Screen.” That theme seems designed to inspire simplistic arcade-like experiences, but Managore said fuck it and made a Metroidvania game.
So how do you fit an entire Metroidvania game into one screen? Well, the answer is that you bend the rules a little bit. The game’s impressive map (seen below in its entirety) does fit into one screen…
…but as your character moves through it, the screen distorts to magnify your current position, while pushing the rest of the map off to the background. It looks like this:
That fisheye effect can be a bit disorienting at first, but I quickly got used to it. The “bulge” seamlessly moves so it’s consistently surrounding your character, and it’s great to be able to see the entire world at any time, without having to switch over to a map screen.
You explore this adorable little world as a flightless bird, running around and collecting sticks. Peppered throughout the map are “nests” which act as savespots, but each one requires a stick to activate it. So it becomes an important strategy to decide which of the nesting spots are important enough to waste one of your precious sticks on. You might ignore a nest that’s in a neutral spot, for example, but quickly place a stick on a nest that’s right before a tricky platforming section.
You also find upgrades throughout the map, mostly tied to your jumping abilities. Unlocking higher jumps, wall jumps and double jumps allows you to access previously unavailable sections of the map. Some of the jumping challenges are pretty damn vexing, particularly when wall-jumping becomes vital. It never gets to a Meat Boy level of difficulty or anything like that, but some sections required about a thousand repeated attempts before I finally succeeded. Especially this fucking one:
Getting to the bottom of that pit without hitting any spikes was a goddamn motherfucking bitch. Eventually, I switched from my controller’s d-pad to the analog stick, and that seemed to help a lot. It made hitting the walls feel a bit stickier somehow, if that makes sense. Once I made that switch, I was wall-jumping like a pro.
After incrementally improving your jumping abilities throughout the game, the last upgrade finally gives your bird the majestic power of flight! This feels super liberating after all the hopping around, and to celebrate I triumphantly flew around the entire map a couple of times.
My journey complete, I soared to a previously inaccessible room to hang out with my babybird friends and enjoy a well-deserved “THE END.”
Birdsong is a delightful little game, with excellent level design and pacing. Due to its clever magnification gimmick, it also has a really unique and intriguing visual style. Another thing I really appreciate is how “peaceful” the game is – there are no enemies or bosses to be found. All of the hazards are environmental, and as a result, your character doesn’t even have any “attack” abilities. You don’t want any trouble, man! You’re just a friendly little bird hopping around and trying to build nests.
As I said, Birdsong was the overall winner of this particular Ludum Dare, and deservedly so. I highly recommend downloading it for free and devoting an hour or so to playing through it. Afterwards, check out some of Managore’s other games. The dude seems to participate in almost every Ludum Dare competition, coming up with really compelling twists on the platforming genre time after time. If you’re into that kind of thing, this seems like a guy to keep an eye on.