Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken (Vita) Review
Posted by Stephen Randle on 02.19.2013
411's Stephen Randle reviews this surprisingly serious platformer where a lone chicken fights against an entire army of evil penguins!
Title: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
Publisher: Ratloop/Reverb Communications
Genre: Action Platformer
Players: 1 (2 for separate co-op multiplayer scenario)
Also available for PC and PS3 (through PSN)
From the roots of a browser game comes Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, which began life as a PSN game back in 2011, and has now been updated and released for Sony’s handheld Vita system. This sidescrolling action game reminded me of similar arcade classics like Contra or Metal Slug, but beneath that, I found a surprising amount of depth beyond just mindlessly shooting waves of enemies.
You are thrust into the shoes of Hardboiled Chicken, a six-foot tall anthropomorphic chicken with some serious anger issues. HBC is a highly-skilled soldier, running a solo mission against the evil world-dominating forces of an army of penguins. If any of that sounds hilarious, well, it is. However, don’t let the premise fool you, the story is one of the grimmest out there, with cutscenes expanding HBC’s backstory and touching on dark and disturbing themes like child soldiers, indoctrination and brainwashing, cultural assimilation, brutal war crimes, genocide, and, of course, revenge. There is nothing “wink, wink” going on here, this is a very intense story about the horrors of war, where all the participants happen to be cartoon birds. It’s what you would get if you gave the Angry Birds the ability to use guns and dropped them into the middle of Vietnam.
You weren’t there, man. You don’t know what it was like.
But just because it’s a dark game doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, and this game is fun to play. The basic combat gives you three guns (pistol, automatic, shotgun) and sends you out to mow down some evil penguins. Dodging opportunities are limited, so the easiest way to stay alive is to simply shoot faster than everyone else, a task that can sometimes be tricky. Your enemies won’t just stand there and wait to be shot, they move around, set up in advantageous positions, and will chase you even if you move to a new game screen. With that said, experienced action gamers won’t have much trouble adapting to the system. In addition, in a feature that I love about modern games, unlike your old-school platformers (like, say, Mario) you don’t have “lives”, just a system of checkpoints for every level. In Rocketbirds, you won’t find yourself replaying entire levels just because you weren’t fast enough and got surprised by a penguin that came from behind, or headed into a big firefight with barely any health. This anti-frustration feature is a welcome addition to a genre that used to be a world of anger and thrown controllers, especially in a game where death lurks around every screen transition.
A brief pause to contemplate the horrors of war, before we get back to shooting anything that moves.
However, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine in the combat arena. There are certain levels of the game where HBC straps on his trusty rocket pack and engages in some good old-fashioned aerial combat (there’s a comment to be made about having flight combat in a game featuring chickens fighting penguins, but it’s so obvious that I just can’t do it). While the controls are just as simple as when you fight on the ground, the rocket controls themselves are very, very loose, and you and your enemies quickly reach speeds where maneuverability becomes an issue, and lining up your shots becomes more a matter of luck than good timing. I often found myself muddling through and exploiting the checkpoint system to refill my health and ammo in order to get past these segments and back into the gameplay I was enjoying.
Where this game really shone, I feel, is the puzzle-solving segments. Beginning as a basic “find coloured key cards to open doors” and “move boxes so you can reach higher platforms” system, the puzzles really expand in complexity when you unlock “brain bugs”, which you can toss at enemies in order to take control of them. Once under your power, you can use your new puppet to open up new pathways and allow HBC to continue making progress on the level (oh, you give up control by forcing them to shoot themselves in the head. I told you this game was dark, right?). Combined with the established keycards, boxes, and intricate systems of elevator platforms, trying to find a way through the maze of levels was some of the most enjoyable fun I had while playing this game, because it was forcing me to think, rather than just plow through levels shooting everything. It’s a surprising amount of complexity for a platformer, and I fully welcome it.
They give you three guns, but why would you use anything but the one that fires the most bullets?
Graphically, the game sprites are cartoonish and simple, as one might expect given its beginnings as a browser game. The settings and backgrounds, however, are well-crafted and detailed, creating lush jungle environments, dank underground bunkers, and complex military installations. Everything is very clean and polished, and while the animations are limited, nothing feels particularly crude.
Another strength of this game is the soundtrack. Courtesy of New World Revolution, a “science fiction rock” band, the game is full of music that fits perfectly with the scenarios, lending intensity to the combat and creating an atmosphere that really captures the mood that the game presents. A special mention goes to the animated cutscenes, which play more like music videos thanks to interweaving the lyrics of the songs with the action on the screen. My only real complaint is that, while the cutscenes are fully voiced, the in-game dialogue is presented as subtitles, set over an audio track of repetitive, near-monotone squawking noises that vaguely resemble birds. Obviously, budget limitations pretty the entire game from being voice acted, but the noise can be fairly irritating.
”Squawk squawk squawk squawk.”
- The comical setting masks a complex, dark storyline with real emotional depth and intrigue
- New World Revolution provides the perfect soundtrack
- I would play an entire game involving just the puzzle-solving chapters
- Generous checkpoint system means death doesn’t equal frustration
- Flight combat is hard to control and fairly clunky, especially compared to the rest of the game
- Screen transitions can lead to confusion when you’re in the middle of a gunfight
- An eternity of repetitive squawks!
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is an action-packed ride of surprising depth, with an easy-to-master combat system and puzzles that will keep your mind stimulated. The story is complex and well-scripted, managing to take comic material and give it shocking seriousness. The soundtrack is incredible, even if the squawking might get on your nerves. The game moves along fairly quickly and isn’t very long, but it’s an enjoyable four-to-six hours, and the co-op multiplayer campaign (which is a completely separate story from the main plot) adds extra fun, plus you get to play with a friend! At a budget price of ten bucks, it’s worth giving a pickup, giving you decent value for your money.
Simple hand-drawn character sprites and cutscenes, detailed environments with some nice painted backdrops
The combat is simplistic, the puzzles logical and interesting, however the flying levels are a bit clunky
The soundtrack hits all the right notes, and the voice acting is serviceable, but the in-game bird noises might get on your nerves
No real added replay value, but the separate co-op campaign will add some hours to your playing time
A nice loose action platformer that never feels frustrating or unfair, the puzzle-solving chapters are a notable highlight, and the story needs to be experienced