Starting off the week we have the recently released PSN exclusive, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken. A remake and expansion of the browser-based game Rocketbirds: Revolution by Ratloop Asia, this game looks to bring the series’ unique Animal Farm meets V for Vendetta atmosphere and style to us console gamers. This idea of browser and flash-based games hopping over to downloadable platforms has been a popular one lately, what with games like The Fancy Pants Adventure and Super Meat Boy coming over but not every one of these games is a gem worthy of porting. Some of those games only work because they’re free or at least practically free throw away experiences you dash through on a lunch break; when you expand them to a full experience there sometimes isn’t enough substance to stretch it out. This game however strives not to be that; even the original browser version cost $10 to play and had surprisingly high production values but still in it’s control and somewhat in the presentation it had a feel indicative of those other cheaper experiences out there. Does this version fix those issues and legitimize this game or does this end up as another case of unnecessary porting? Read on and find out.
So the first thing I want to talk about is the writing as it is easily my favorite part of the game, the universe established here is simply fascinating. The basic premise is that you are Hardboiled Chicken a revolutionary who defected from the totalitarian penguin regime of Albatropolis. Throughout the game you must take the down the establishment, foster an already brewing revolution, and make up for your past and the childhood that was taken from you. Dialog is very light and honestly not super well written but thankfully there isn’t too much of it as the story is mainly shown spectacularly through the environment. The flow of the story-particularly the back story which shown in flashback music video cut scenes-is told through the look the world, its propaganda posters that line the walls of its grey cracked infrastructure tell more than words ever could. It’s a world where one race (the penguins) have conquered, enslaved, and (ironically I suppose) dehumanized the other races. A great example of this is a poster in a penguin propaganda museum that claims that chickens are just the cavemen to the Übermensch penguins similar to the Nazi propaganda during the Holocaust. Obviously it’s a lighter take on such a thing and it’s not a direct comparison but it works well to illustrate exactly what this game is going for and how well it achieves that kind of atmosphere.
Of course that universe wouldn’t work half as well as it does without the crisp sharp 2D visuals this game employs. The themes this game uses integrate perfectly with the art style that has a look similar to a clean line version of Puzzle Agent. There is also a lot of great use of colour and lighting with deep red, black, and dull gray scenery coated with soft sunlight and dark shadows. It’s a very evocative look and it really brings you into the world. Another thing that helps with the immersion is this sort of parallax scrolling/pseudo 3D sort of thing it has going on. As you move through the environment it seems to move with you and the things within the world seem to bend as your perspective of them changes. It’s very hard to describe but it’s an amazing look and while the game is fully 2D it ends up giving a great illusion of depth. I guess it is worth mentioning this game does have a red and blue (as well as many other color combos) 3D glasses mode that you can turn on which seems like it would work well here. I never did get to check it out though as I don’t have a pair of those glasses on hand any more.
A weirdly big part of this game is the audio as it heavily features an indie band by the name of New World Revolution, whom I have never heard of but I kind of think that’s the point. Regardless of their popularity or status the band does a great job of scoring this game and the cut scenes serve as much as music videos as they do flashbacks. As I’ve said before I don’t really have much of an ear for music but I do like the songs in this game. They have a nice electronic kind of flow to them that works well with the established theme and some great audio mixing helps it come in unobtrusively and really put strong emphasis on the scenes it’s in. Not all the audio here is great though, the VO is just plain bad. The readings-especially for Hardboiled Chicken himself-just feel incredibly stilted and unemotional; this is only exacerbated by the fact that despite it being animated the characters somehow cop for the camera when they read their lines.
Lastly we have the gameplay which is sadly the weakest part of this title, it’s also where its browser game roots show the strongest. It’s a 2D action platformer with some strong puzzle elements, generally of the block pushing variety. The controls are better than they were in the PC original but they still feel kind of sticky and the action overall feels very tedious. Much of the combat here is very trial and error and while the checkpointing is pretty good the loads aren’t great between deaths and it quickly becomes irritating. That said the standard gameplay is bearable and there are a couple highlights that make it worthwhile; the biggest of these is the few flying areas which pop up. In these areas you get to strap on a nuclear jetpack, fly around like The Rocketeer, and get into dog fights. The controls for the flying levels go beyond the boring old dual joystick shooter formula; gravity and momentum both play a role and as such you can do some really cool things by gauging your acceleration. These sections are few and far between though and sadly the majority of what you’ll be doing is heading right and shooting. Weirdly though the game overall manages to be both tedious and somewhat short as it’s only maybe 4 or so hours long, at least in single player. There is a shorter and completely separate co-op campaign but it’s only local co-op and in the time I had to play this I never got the chance to check it out. It’s a pity the tedium overtakes the excitement with this title but the environment and atmosphere do a lot to make up for it.
In the end Rocketbirds is a bit of an odd duck, it’s delicious and covered in orange sauce but it’s a little too greasy. My poorly constructed metaphors aside this is a game I feel conflicted about, it’s certainly not bad and I can’t say enough good things about the atmosphere and feeling this game creates but I just don’t think it’s all that fun. So with that being the case I can’t give a full recommendation for this game. I certainly think a little research into the demo and/or the PC version could help you decide if it’s worth your $12 (2 dollars more than the PC version but it does have more levels, better controls, and somewhat enhanced graphics), I just can’t decide whether I think it’s worth it or not. My job it seems demands I put a score here though so for a game I respect if not enjoy, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken gets a 3.75 out of 5 stars. Just go play the demo if you’re curious, you’ll pretty much know right away if this game is for you.