Review: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken

Great name for a game isn’t it? Well luckily it gets far more sensible when you realise that you’ll be taking control of a chicken, armed to the nines with various weapons and a jetpack in order to overthrow the evil penguin regime run by the evil Putzki.

Yes, really.

Some “wacky” games focus too much on trying to be funny and forget that there’s a game hidden away that people actually want to play. I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Hardboiled Chicken I made that exact assumption, just another developer trying to tap into the side-scrolling platform market by doing something so random it couldn’t be anything but original. But what I found was actually hugely refreshing. It’s a platformer, so don’t expect anything in the way of brand new gameplay styles or groundbreaking ideas, but underneath the bizarre plotlines, comedy moments and fantastic soundtrack (more on this later) is a genuinely fun game that despite not being the biggest game ever (it’s a PSN download after all) is well worth the £7.99 you might spend on it.

The mechanics of the gameplay are quite straightforward and make the game totally playable for anyone above the “total muppet” skill level, although considering the amount of bloodshed in the game it might be wise to keep the young one at a safe distance. Controlling the superchicken is very easy indeed, and despite not being able to shoot while jumping, or shoot in any direction other than left and right, it’s very rare that you feel cheated when you die. Generally it’s because you’ve either bumbled into a busy area (easy to do when you consider the screens don’t scroll as such, you flick to the next area when you reach the edge of the screen) or haven’t quite worked out what you’re meant to be doing. You’ll be doing a reasonable amount of thinking, with a series of well-paced and suitably challenging puzzles along the way, many of which will have you controlling the mind of an enemy penguin to access areas that wouldn’t normally be free to roam. This is done with a well judged throw of one of your grenade style weapons, a bug that lands, leaps upwards and takes control of any bad guy standing by it. As soon as you’re in control you’ll be able to get to restricted areas, unlock doors that only open from one side as well as sneak up on other bad guys and mow them down in a show of bullets. Once you’re finished with your unwitting enemy, simply shoot yourself in the head and you’ll go straight back to controlling your chicken guy. It adds a brilliant dimension to the puzzles, and presents some real head scratching moments later on.

Visually Ratloop have done a tremendous job, with crisp graphics and some great animations backed up by some gorgeous backdrops that spring to life even more with a stereoscopic 3D mode (which I didn’t try out, it’s tricky with a non-3D TV). It’s easy to take this sort of thing for granted on a smaller scale game, but considering there are 16 stages it’s impressive that you never feel like you’re seeing the same thing twice. You’ll pass through a series of beautifully drawn locations including a museum and massive airships, which brings us nicely onto another aspect of the game – the jetpack.

At certain points in the game you need to get inside and blow up some huge blimps, which means flying around with your jetpack. This is pretty tricky, the dual-stick natural reactions take over until you realise you can, again, only shoot in the direction you’re flying in which when you’re being chased by penguins also strapped into jetpacks makes life a bit tricky. They’ll also start flinging heat-seaking missiles at you which are tough to avoid, but adds a fun few moments while you try and coax the missiles into blowing up the same penguin who fired them in the first place. The blimps also give you a nerve-shredding countdown once you’re inside, giving you a few nasty moments as you try to rush your way past the guards and out of the exit hatch before the whole ship goes up in flames.

Around all of the fun gameplay is a series of cutscenes which give you a backstory to how your superchicken came to be so intent on kicking as much penguin ass as possible, backed by the most fantastic music I’ve heard for ages in a game. Recorded by New World Revolution (no, I hadn’t heard of them either) the songs used throughout the game are perfectly matched and give the cutscenes, which are a series of lightly animated still images (it makes sense when you see it), a brilliantly urgent and meaningful edge. It’s hard to understand without seeing and hearing the whole experience, but it’s very telling that I’ve since found out the game’s soundtrack is on iTunes, and I’ve massively tempted to buy it. I never do that after playing a game.

Take a step back and you’ll occasionally get chance to overhear the penguins or other characters talking. This is done using a series of random animal-type noises with speech bubbles above the character. Some of these are genuinely funny; you’ll find penguins complaining that they’re only guarding a sewer, or coming out of a toilet and telling the others not to go in there for a while. Added to everything else it’s the cherry on the top of a well made and fun platformer.

Not everything is golden; the co-op play is limited and seems to be less fun than the single player, and the puzzles are generally fairly straightforward apart from a handful of tricky moments. You also get the feeling that Ratloop were holding back a bit to make sure their first PSN title was well received and scrimped a bit on the length in the process (it’s roughly 6 hours from start to finish). If that’s the case then I’m very much looking forward to seeing what else they come up with in the future, because by taking a few more risks and being slightly bolder with a few gameplay decisions this could have been one of the best PSN games available. As it is, it’s still a gorgeous, fun and accessible title which for a touch under £8 is definitely worth a punt if you’re a platforming fan. Very impressive.

Maybe give it a miss if you’re a massive penguin lover though…

Reviewed on PS3

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