Platforms: PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita (reviewed), OS X, Linux
In Rocketbirds you’ll take control of the original Cock of War, known simply as Hardboiled Chicken, who is said to be so badass that he survived being boiled as a fetus. Once you break free of the fascist penguin regime that you once fought for, your goal is to save the country of Albatropolis from them and take down their pernicious leader, Putzki. If you couldn’t tell by that description, Rocketbirds isn’t exactly a serious affair, which leads to one of its biggest downfalls, its story. Everything from the writing to the voice work is underwhelming. What’s even worse is that I think that’s what Rocketbirds was striving for. The problem is that what we get is neither fun nor clever and nearly every “joke” in the game falls flat on its face.
One small bright spot in regards to the storytelling comes from a few cutscenes that are sprinkled throughout the game. These are short animated scenes that give insight into some of the story elements and feature some great music. To be honest, the music of Rocketbirds just might be its one and only redeeming quality. The soundtrack features music from New World Revolution and each cutscene is essentially just a music video. These were by far the most enjoyable parts of the game for me; so much so, that I wish they would have been used as the only storytelling elements and a majority of the writing and actual voice work would have been left on the cutting room floor.
While I had issues with the story and writing, these are just minor complaints and wouldn’t have been much of a problem had the gameplay been done well. Rocketbirds is a 2D action platformer that focuses a great deal on combat and puzzle-solving. Unfortunately the execution of this combination of gameplay leaves much to be desired. The controls are awkward and stiff when it comes to both platforming and combat. The platforming works well enough until you have any sort of pressure put on you, whether that be from enemies or a time limit, and you need any sort of precision. The same goes for combat. If you’re up against one enemy everything works fine, but if you’re attacked by multiple penguins (especially if you end up with one on each side of you) the stiff controls can create some real issues.
The puzzles in the game don’t fare much better than the combat and platforming. While some of them do take some thinking, they all boil down to the same exact concept: find box, push box, use box to reach higher point, find key card, go back to door that wouldn’t open, unlock door, rinse and repeat. This grows tiresome quickly and less than halfway through the game I was completely burnt out on this design choice. Rocketbirds does try to throw in some other “puzzles” towards the end of the game by trading in the boxes and key cards for turrets. Rather than needing to use any true logic, these sections turned into trial and error death fests that ended up being some of the most infuriating sections of the game. I’m talking, “smash my brand new Vita against the wall” infuriating. These were not fun times and needing to rely on the controls the game offers was like adding insult to injury. The only saving grace to this is the game is extremely generous with its checkpoints, which only slightly dulled the knife.
Outside of the constant repetitive puzzles in the early game, Rocketbirds does try to mix things up a little bit by giving you some variety in weapons, as well as introducing grenades and brain bugs (both of which are aimed using the back touchpad of the Vita). The use of brainbugs is the most entertaining of your combat options as it allows you to control an infected enemy. This mechanic is used to solve puzzles and can also be fun when used to just run around and take out unsuspecting enemies, making your trek through the level a little easier. Rocketbirds also offers up a few air combat levels that have Hardboiled strapping on a jetpack and battling enemies in the sky. While these do offer up something new, they end up being just as boring as the rest of the game.
In terms of graphics, Rocketbirds looks really good on the Vita and features a very sleek presentation. This may have also led to another huge downside, the nearly unbearable load times. After every death you’ll be staring at a load screen for 20 to 30 seconds, if not longer. In a game where death is going to happen often because of the shoddy controls, trial and error puzzle solving, and the fact that dying can actually be an asset if you find yourself low on ammo or health (there‘s no penalty and you get full health and ammo starting at your last checkpoint), the load times became noticeable and frustrating. In some areas near the end of the game I probably spent more time looking at load screens than I did in game.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken isn’t a broken game and can be played (with some patience), but it’s just not all that fun. The sleek presentation and exceptional soundtrack aren’t enough to make up for its stiff controls, repetitive puzzles and sometimes questionable design choices. It’s possible that you might get a kick out of Rocketbirds story and writing, but deep down, at its absolute best, it’s just a boring experience that’s better swept under the rug.