One badass mutha-clucker in an 80s action platformer package.
It’s kind of hard to work out Rocketbirds; how do you explain a game with so much charm covering over such outdated gameplay? In its essence, RB:HC is simply a side scrolling action platformer, much in the vein of titles such as the original Prince of Persia (and, despite the name, not in any way like Angry Birds). However, the polish, design and sheer heart evident from picking up the controller elevates the whole experience somewhat, and lifts what becomes a slightly repetitive action game into something more – an experience instead of a mere diversion. The games hero is the titular Hardboiled – a poultry amalgam of the classic war veteran action hero (a little bit 80s Arnie, a little bit Rambo) fighting back against an oppressive regime with which he has a dark past. Hardboiled starts the game rocketing into an enemy base, with the clear intention of destruction – however, soon enough, the plot starts to twist, the cartoony presentation starts to show some very dark undercurrents, and things get a lot stranger. Basic gameplay is simple enough, though – run, jump, platform, shoot and puzzle your way through some linear levels, with little to divert you from the straight line from start to end. The odd level allows you the power of rocket propelled flight, but in truth, the short diversions this offers don’t really take away from the fact that this is straight-up jump ‘n’ shoot gaming. Visually, however, we are clearly in Indie gaming territory – the game looks pretty sweet, with cartoony sprites overlaying 3D scrolling backgrounds and an attention to detail that’s hard to fault. It’s the small stories told by the art design that I liked the most – one chapter, set in a prison, had a window into an “interrogation room”, which had sufficient grisly details to outline what really went on in there. The simple style also allows for some good animations to accompany the gameplay – it’s a shame that there wasn’t a little more time spent on sprite variance, but hey, it still looks and feels like a well thought out world. The in game sound is good too – a combination of real speech and garbled noises blend well with sound effects, although the script is a little limited at times, leading to some annoying repetition. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that just a little more substance isn’t injected into the gameplay – this is a long way from either the Metroidvania, multi-layered puzzling approach of titles such as Shadow Complex, or the more nuanced puzzle elements of titles such as Abe’s Oddysey or Limbo. Instead, the simplicity means that rarely do you have much choice in where to go, what to do or how to fight, and as such, extended time spent with RB:HC can quickly get somewhat repetitive, and, dare I say it, a touch boring. Different guns and abilities do iron out the absolute worse wrinkles a little, but it still has moments of feeling like little more than a Flash game – and one with a price tag attached to it at that.
the sheer blunt-force charm of the characters and the cut scenes do just enough to raise this game
However, it’s nearly impossible to overlook the wonderful shine that the presentation does bring, and a large part of this comes down to the between-level videos. With a truly pumping soundtrack from New World Revolution that fits the games ideology perfectly, the videos are masterful in their storytelling, and make the slight chore of grinding the levels all the more palatable as they unlock. The light, cartoon feel really works when the story told is so delightfully dark, and I was genuinely shocked by the substance of what I was watching. Ratloop Asia can certainly inject a ton of personality into a title, and Rocketbirds shines brighter than many of its peers as a result. In terms of life, RB:HC has enough to keep you going for a while – fifteen chapters will probably take up a good five to six hours of your time, with some extended play to be had in a few additional hidden bits to find. Layered over that is a quirky multiplayer, with ten levels to be tackled by two players together – quick shout out has to go to the multiplayer Budgies, as their design really did make me chuckle. At the current price point, it’s difficult to know whether to fully recommend Rocketbirds or not – there will certainly be a portion of gamers would find the repetitive jump ‘n’ shoot a turn off, but overall, the sheer blunt-force charm of the characters and the cut scenes do just enough to raise this game from an “alright” 6 to a “pretty-good-really” 8. Chuck in the fun co-op campaign, and there’s some considerable depth here – not enough to quite remove the feeling that you are buying into a very shiny Flash game, but still plenty to make this worth a recommendation to anyone who fondly remembers action-platforming from a time when it had some soul.
The Bad: Gets repetitive; can’t quite shake feeling like a Flash game; extremely linear to the point of predictable; not much replay value, apart from the videos