There were two things I was absolutely certain of before writing this review. One: We’d never see Star Wars: Episode VII. Two: We would one day be ruled by a vicious species of man-like penguins. I was wrong about one of those…
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken tells of this apocalyptic landscape, where a world, maybe ours, is over taken by Penguins. Led by Putzki, who more then earns his name, and his brother, an Ivan Danko look-a-like (for those uninitiated with Red Heat, it’s Schwarzenegger playing a Russian narc), the Penguin War Machine will not be stopped.
Enter Hardboiled Chicken (HBC). Dressed in his finest Rambo getup, and given probably the worst Sly Stallone impression as a voice, HBC sets off on a 15 stage journey to take down the penguin regime.
Alright, so the story really isn’t the strongest part of this game. Told through occasional cut-scenes with no dialog, you get the general feeling of why HBC is fighting, where he came from, and what’s at stake, but there isn’t a lot of time spent fleshing out any of the characters. That time is spent flinging bullets and blowing up zeppelins.
While it sounds (and is) quite silly in premise, the time spent playing this title is certainly not a waste. HBC does his fighting in 2D across some varied metroidvania-ish maps. They play pretty linear, occasionally providing a choice in path but never in direction. Flying levels are also incorporated as HBC tries to take down enemy zeppelins armed only with his machine -gun and rocket pack. These levels give a real sense of scope and speed as the camera zooms in and out, at times showing you the entire zeppelin and the chaos you are causing around it.
Outside of new weapons popping up every 2-3 levels, upgrades are non-existent. You’ll always have the same amount of health and ammo, with pickups throughout the levels easily keeping those topped off. The weapons, though, are pretty fun to use and never need to be reloaded; each weapon feeds off the ammo gauge like a limitless clip. Each is different in power but the main choice between weapons ultimately comes down to firing speed. With guns having the ability to juggle those war-mongering penguins, I found myself sticking solely to the automatic weapons. Excellent firing speed, combined with some nice power once you reached the machine gun, meant most enemies weren’t able to get a shot off.
The only part of the level design that falls apart is the arena battles. Happening 2-3 times through the single player campaign, HBC will be dropped into a walled off section to face between 5-10 waves of penguins. They always come down in the same order, so planning and patience can get you through, but a pair of shield penguins dropping in with machine gunners behind them (they can juggle just like you can) caused more then their fare share of deaths. Luckily, the check point system is very forgiving, and you can expect to be through the game in about 3 hours.
Also included is a separate co-op campaign. Instead of controlling HBC, you control two of a squad of six spec ops budgies. Each has their own difficulty associated with them, and each is designated only one weapon to carry into battle. As a little change in pace, the budgies can stack on one another, which is necessary for some platforming sections as well as just being cool to see during a fight.
Rocketbirds is really well animated. The design is stylized, with certain traits of the birds exaggerated (I never knew, for example, that penguins had such long necks). The backgrounds are different through out the levels, and the design team really put a lot of work into the penguin propaganda that is strewn about the levels.
HBC himself moves well, never getting stuck on the environment. Visual cues for things that need to be moved or buttons that need to be pushed sometimes pop-up before it looks like you’re on top of them, and the elevator design can be a little off when trying to determine when HBC is actually standing on them, but if you miss it, you’re back on with a quick jump.
I had a good time with Rocketbirds. The level design was varied enough to keep things visually interesting, while the game play was tight and responsive. The rock soundtrack throughout the game, provided by indie rockers New World Revolution, sets the tone and never lets up.
Standing as the only bad mark on the game is lack of a stronger narrative. Hell, even a better explanation as to how a fool like Putzki came to be in charge, would have paid dividends in the later half of the game. Everything starts to drag around chapter 11, with nothing driving you forward, Putzki’s Castle becomes just another shooting range, rather then an epic climax. Even the not-so-small part the penguins play in HBC’s origin story isn’t really a strong enough story-wise to keep things pushing hard through the end.
As a side note, the two voices in the game, HBC and the Ahnold Penguin, aren’t great. HBC has no emotion what so ever, and Ahnold Penguin is kind of a one note joke that thankfully only gets played once. As the two characters only speak a couple of times, it doesn’t hurt the game, but it would have been awesome if they both would have had stronger voice work.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a game that has a lot going for it. Engaging game play, tight controls, and a kicking sound track make for a great experience. Lack of narrative pulls it down, but not enough to diminish the time spent with it. For a $9.99 price point, I would gladly recommend HBC and his gun-toting craziness to a gamer looking for some cheap, yet well produced dumb fun.