Crossing the Steams 12.15.12: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
Welcome to another edition of Crossing the Steams, with this week’s focus on Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken. This game has been in my backlog for quite a while so I finally decided to tackle it. While it is a solid enough PC port, the actual “game” part is sketchy as hell and deeply frustrating later on, which is a bit of a shame since the game has some personality within it. Never the less the game left me with an annoyed feeling the more I played of it.
RocketBirds: Hardboiled Chicken (shortened to Rocketbirds for the rest of this) is a 2D side-scrolling action game with parts of a dual-joystick shooter mixed in to split up the levels. Neither aspect works that well though through a few faults of the controls, mostly.
I’ll start with the dual-joystick shooter bits. Your character (whom I don’t even think has a name, but I can’t be sure, I’m calling him “Chicken”) flies around on his jetpack with the left stick and kills enemies by aiming with them on the right stick. The problem is that you have to use the A button to actually fly around the levels. This makes actual shooting the enemies an awkward process because your left thumb is guiding the Chicken around, while your right thumb is on the A button actually providing thrust. Then when you see an enemy, you have to move your thumb down to the right thumbstick and try and shoot at him. Geometry Wars, Waves, even Smash TV, the crux was always you could freely move with the left stick and shoot right the right. Adding in the unnecessary “press A to fly” mechanic only serves to make these stages kind of annoying. There is also momentum associated with flying around so when you need to make a tight turn, or quick 180, you aren’t able to really do so. They do look pretty though, with some impressive bits of scale when the camera zooms out.
The main part of the game is the 2D platforming/action bits but controls, animation, and a sloppy sense of platforming only bog these levels down as well. The point of these levels is to get through the various environments, picking up new weapons and items, killing a lot of the enemy penguins, picking up key cards and opening locked doors, and some light jumping action.
I’ll start off with saying that I didn’t finish the game. There’s a part in level 8 that I just could not beat, despite about wasting 30 minutes on it. You’re in a timed area, having to escape from a level within 1:30. I kept getting stun-locked by enemies, or else just missing jumps because of the weird way the Chicken hops up. So, that’s where I ended up finishing the game.
Where to begin….firstly, the combat is problematic, to say the least. You shoot enemies, can jump, dodge, and throw an auxiliary weapon (grenade or mind control spore). Your guns include; a pistol, a shotgun, or a machine gun, but they all (thankfully) pull from the same ammo bar, and it’s kind of hard to actually run out of ammo. The grenades and spores have infinite ammo but aren’t that effective since they have a small radius as to how much they cover. The spores, in particular, have an extremely small area as to actually use. You shoot enemies and juggle them in the air, until you see a poof of feathers explode out of them, which indicates they’re dead. Juggling multiple enemies can be problematic because one will usually slip through the hail of bullets, roll away, and then start shooting at you. Enemies can also juggle you, which becomes a real pain when you have enemies on either side of you, you just basically become dead. The enemies don’t juggle that often in the beginning of the game, but once you have three or more enemies on screen, expect to get knocked at some point.
Platforming and puzzle solving doesn’t fare too better, actually. Your basic jump doesn’t go up high at all, and is at a weird arc. There are things on the environment you think you can grab but won’t. Conversely, ledges that don’t appear distinguishable in the least are the only way you can proceed in the level, but good luck on sussing that type of stuff out. Most of the puzzle solving boils down to either pressing buttons to open doors, or else finding color-coded keycards to operates switches for things. Yes, they’ve taken the Doom approach to puzzles and just make you find the blue key to open the blue door. Other puzzles involve mind controlling an enemy to open a door, or else moving around various boxes in order to form a step for you to jump on the ceiling, etc. One puzzle (I think in mission 6) broke for me though, because I moved a box incorrectly, and caused it to be on an elevator that wasn’t powered on. I basically hit step 5 of the puzzle, but forgot to do steps 3 and 4 to get it fully working, so that required a restart.
Graphically, the game is a bit simple, but has a pretty decent style associated with it. The art style is pretty in-line with Shank, but instead of Mexican people, its giant Chickens and penguins. So….that’s something. There is also call backs to the “They Live” film with signs saying “OBEY” written on signs, and just the general farcical nature to the whole game. You don’t see bullets though, not yours or your enemies, which helps to add to the juggle annoying behaviors that creep up later on. During the dual-stick levels, the camera stays in close during combat but during rest periods it zooms out to impressive lengths, so that you only appear as a speck in the world. The general graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but there is some detail/care that went into them, and they work well enough.
The music is probably one of the stronger suits the game has. The main theme is “Illuminate Me” by the Californian musician/band “New World Revolution”. It’s a very funky, off-kilter track that fits into the game world perfectly. There’s some other music by New Word Revolution which helps fit into the game as well (basically anything with lyrics they seemed to do). The other music in the game is solid enough, but a bit on the quiet side during the game. The sound effects are pretty standard fair, and there isn’t any voice acting. The only voice acting comes from the music, which helps get across the plot of the game by what the singer is singing about.
Replayability was an issue for me, mainly because I couldn’t finish the main game to judge how long it actually is. There are apparently secrets in every level, but I never found any in the time I played. There’s a co-op mode that is local only. Aside from fighting game, this is the first game I’ve seen that can use two 360 controllers for a game. Most games require only one controller, and the other player to use the keyboard and mouse. So good on this game for being intelligent about the co-op, minus actually having actual online co-op.
The game installs fine and isn’t particularly weird or funky on my PC. It has good controller support, Steam achievements to be unlocked, and I encountered no game-stopping bugs during my time with it. Most of my problems with the game came from that of design, but as an application, the game ran perfectly fine.
I like the world that is presented in Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken, the idea of a bunch of Chickens/Penguins, the look of it, and especially the sound of the game. The basic gameplay is faulty though, be it the dual-joystick parts of the 2D platforming parts. The flight stuff is a chore to get through, and the platforming sequences border on being sloppy, imprecise, and full of frustration at the sight of 3 or more enemies. If either part was better, I’d recommend the game more. As it is, seek out the soundtrack at least due to it being the best part of the game.
Graphics — 6.5 Everything is a bit simple, but the point comes across fairly well. It’s not as detailed as Shank is, but you can still figure out what’s going out. Some good animation here & there helps with the feel.
Gameplay – 5.0 Neither aspect, the platforming or the dual-joystick stuff works very well. Both seem unfinished and kind of broken in spots. The platformingis the bigger offender, though.
Sound – 9.0 — The music is far and away the highlight of the game. Seek it out on Youtube, or buy the soundtrack if you really like it. No voice acting, and the sound effects aren’t memorable.
Ease of Installation/Playing – 9.0 Good controller support, achievements, and no problems on my computer at all. It’s a well done port, I just wish it was a better game.
Replayability – N/A I couldn’t finish the game at all, so I’m not going to judge based on this criteria. But it has secrets to find and a local co-op mode to try out.
Overall — 5..9 (exact) which I’ll round up to 6.
Other Steam News
“Nada” springs to mind (and is another They Live callback). No new releases are scheduled for the rest of this year, outside of DLC releases. Next week, rumored to be Dec. 20th, is the start of the Winter Steam Sale for which wallets across the world shall weep. Next week I plan on looking at Fallout: New Vegas.