Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
With revolution in the air, Ratloop Inc. felt it was time to let their own freedom fighter out of the coop, releasing Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken on the PlayStation 3 earlier this month. At first glance this finger-licking, feathery shooter has a lot going for it: a unique style, quirky soundtrack and a hardcore chicken leading man who’s more Rambo than Nando’s. (Yep, you can bet the chicken references will be coming thick and fast, folks…)
Rocketbirds is a side-scrolling puzzle-shooter, with gameplay mechanics much in the same vein as games like Flashback and Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey; titles still remembered with great fondness the world over. You play as Hardboiled Chicken, a one bird army who fights for the freedom of Albatropolis against the poultalitarian rule of the penguin emperor Putzki and his right wing man, Brno.
Immediate impressions of Rocketbirds are good indeed, with stylish graphics that grab your attention from the minute you press ‘Start’. Distinctive comic-book-style characters and immersive backgrounds permeate the game from start-to-finish to a quality often reserved only for headline titles. Each level has a very different feel and small details like lighting changes and propaganda posters litter them all, making each area a delight to play through. Defeating your enemies never gets old either, watching them explode in blusters of animated feathers and more cartoon blood than the Colonel has herbs and spices in his secret recipe. The action is also punctuated with often hilarious cut scenes, dragging you into the history of Hardboiled Chicken and his penguin nemeses with some wonderful fractured storytelling.
If the graphics of Rocketbirds don’t turn your head then the soundtrack surely will. From the opening theme song to individual level music, Ratloop Inc. have done a great job in using American psychedelic rock band, New World Revolution, to match the pace of the soundtrack to the games action. Portions of songs are used on repeat while Hardboiled battles it out with twenty or thirty penguin henchmen and you’ll quickly find yourself humming along without ever becoming annoyed by the bite-size clips on offer. The song Illuminate Me features heavily and is a perfectly used in explaining Hardboiled’s coloured past. The game also uses a nice mix of actual voice-acting and nonsensical jibber-jabber for character’s speech, allowing players to connect with pivotal characters like Hardboiled and Brno, while never worrying too much about the slaughtered masses of black and white minions.
The simplicity of gameplay is a blessing and a curse to this fun title however, with point-and-fire shooting giving the game a great pick-up-and-play feel but limiting it somewhat in terms of variation. Different weapons are collected along the way, each with their own strengths, but with no upgradable features you’ll soon find yourself sticking to your latest pick up for the best results. Puzzles do seem to have a more variety meal style than gunplay, but they too become familiar all too soon. Hardboiled must collect key cards, push and stack boxes to allow access to new areas and regularly take control of dim-witted penguin soldiers, making them do his bidding through use of mind control grenades known as ‘Brain Bugs’ if he has any chance of overthrowing the penguin’s rule over Albatropolis.
Just when it feels that the simplicity of the puzzling and shooting might be getting a little old, Ratloop Inc. throw in what Hardboiled likes to call ‘jetpaction’. Taking to the skies in aerial battles, these are the levels from which Rocketbirds takes its name – jetpacking around in 360 degrees, evading bogey fire and blasting down enemies as if you were Maverick himself. The aerial levels make for a great change of pace to the standard side-scrolling fare and help to keep the action from becoming too repetitive. The skyward scenes come with their own drawbacks however, with little indication of where enemies are lurking within the sizeable sky, often leaving you hovering back and forth in search of opponents who are happily firing missiles at you from off screen. Aiming is also a little awkward when hurtling around on your jetpack, but in all honesty the fun of buzzing around and trying to keep your goose from being cooked keeps you almost too busy to notice. Almost.
One quite literal sticking point with Rocketbirds though is its controls. The analogue sticks have never felt more sluggish than they do here and you sometimes feel like you’re dragging Hardboiled into action kicking and screaming rather than him willingly springing to attention. These control issues are counteracted somewhat in the jetpack scenes, with smooth 360 degree movement freeing you up for a little while before you become grounded in the mire once again. And as beautiful as the backgrounds are, it is sometimes awkward to discern foreground from background and you might spend ten minutes trying to jump onto a ledge that isn’t a ledge at all. That said, all of those ten minutes add up and without them the single player campaign would feel very short indeed, simple as many of the puzzles are.
A co-operative mode is available, though it adds to the longevity of the title only to a degree. Players choose from a list of smaller ‘Budgie’ characters, each solely equipped with a different weapon, and the pair must work together to overcome many of the obstacles that Hardboiled completes alone. Disappointingly, the level designs are merely tweaked to require the use of two players rather than one and the ‘Brain Bug’ puzzles are removed completely – a decision that proves costly in terms of enjoyment to be had here.
Rocketbirds harks back to days gone by; bringing the side-scrolling puzzle-shooter back to life with a fun plotline and truly inspiring graphics and musical score. Despite all this however, it never quite manages to live up to the promise of its aesthetics. The campaign mode is over just as you’re beginning to tuck in and while good fun, the co-operative mode doesn’t offer enough variation to lengthen the experience significantly. All-in-all, as delicious as Rocketbirds turns out to be, it definitely plays out as more of a snack box than a bargain bucket, costing £7.19 that might just be better spent elsewhere.