When I was asked by the Jump Dash Roll big boss to review Sonority, my mouth said “yes of course!” but my brain said, “oh no, I hate puzzle games!”
Actually, that’s not fair. It’s not that I hate puzzle games but apart from a brief obsession with cheap hidden object games during the pandemic (it was a dark time for all of us), it’s never been a genre that particularly appealed to me.
Still, it’s always good to step out of one’s comfort zone now and again so I agreed to take a look at Sonority, the latest game from German developer Hanging Gardens Interactive.
You play as Esther, a young woman who is trying to find a mysterious melody that can help heal her friend, Batama, a talking bear. To find the melody you visit a strange ruined kingdom where animals and humans were able to talk to each other. With the help of a talking racoon, you solve puzzles and slowly discover the mythology of the region and what happened to everyone. It all sounds a bit odd, but I assure you it makes sense in the context of the game.
The devs have clearly spent a lot of time world building and creating lore and it really pays off. As fantastical as the game is, it still somehow sounds realistic. If someone told me this was based on real Greek myths I’d probably have believed them – that’s how well crafted the story is.
The vast majority of the puzzles in the game require you to move and rotate stones by playing musical notes. The stones move proportionally to the gaps you set between notes. As the game progresses your character will learn more notes and discover new instruments to play which are needed to solve increasingly complicated puzzles.
For the record, I have no musical knowledge whatsoever. I know that musical notes start at A and go up to G but that’s about it. It didn't help matters that the game kind of throws you in at the deep end with this — there’s no tutorial or introduction and it took me a good 20 minutes to work out what to do and how the puzzles worked. I don’t know if it would be easier for someone more familiar with musical notation but for me, it took some getting used to. Frustratingly I kept forgetting which way around the puzzles work. I couldn’t remember if I needed to go up the musical scale to move blocks up or down. I have a feeling that it took me a lot longer than most people to complete the game because I couldn’t get my head around this.
I also had the ongoing problem that I found playing the game on a controller quite difficult. The musical notes you need to play are mapped out on the controller– they start on the L button/trigger, then go down the D pad and up the buttons on the other side. It makes logical sense but it feels like actually learning to play an instrument and I inevitably ended up spending more time trying to remember which button to press than I did solving the puzzles. This is especially frustrating when some puzzles have a time limit and it took me ages to solve them not because I didn’t know what to do but because I couldn’t type in the notes fast enough.
In terms of the game's graphics, they aren’t cutting edge but they are perfectly functional, bright, clear and varied enough to make all the areas of the city you visit in the game unique and interesting throughout.
Although the world is 3D the camera can only be moved very slightly in any direction which makes navigation difficult. It can also affect puzzle solving because it’s impossible to look at a puzzle from a different angle to get a different perspective on where all the blocks need to go. Likewise, although the game gives the illusion of being open world it’s actually quite linear and you spend a lot of time trying to run into sections of the map that aren’t accessible.
One aspect of the game that really stands out is the sound. The characters are all fully voiced - with various levels of professionalism it has to be said - but in a game all about talking to animals, it’s nice to, well, talk to animals.
The sound design is excellent and the ambient sounds are really quite peaceful. In a cool design choice, the game is mostly music free until you solve a puzzle. At this point, the notes you have played in the puzzle will begin to loop and match up with in-game background music. It’s a really nice touch that I'd even say makes solving puzzles feel a little bit more of an achievement.
As I stated at the start of the review I'm not much of a fan of puzzle games but this game was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I was fully engaged with the puzzles and the storyline. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but if you like puzzle games, or even if you're just looking for something different to play, you could do much worse than pick up a copy of Sonority.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!