The original Cock of War.
It does not happen often that chickens are portrayed as the epitomes of toughness and rebellion. Not for nothing is the word ‘chicken’ used to refer to those who express cowardice and faint-heartedness. Hardboiled Chicken, the protagonist of Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, completely defies this stereotype. He is the leader and grand image of the rebellion against the totalitarian penguin regime that occupies Albatropolis and aims to brainwash and oppress the other birds by use of propaganda and force. He is your typical Texan accent All-American hero, and while it may not be intentional, seemingly modeled off our good old mumbling action veteran Sylvester Stallone.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken was originally a PC (later ported to PS3) game but perfectly fits handhelds. The 15 levels in single player mode are of decent length (for a game costing less than 10 Euros, I’d call 6-7 hours quite decent) and you might not be able to finish one in the ten minutes you are on the bus, but checkpoints are extremely frequent and this makes this game very suitable for playing in bursts. The only negative the respawning system brings is that dying does not feel like a punishment. When I had finished the game I did not feel like it was overly difficult, despite my few dozen feathery deaths; Rocketbirds is a classic trial-and-error game. One approaches a situation with a devised tactic, and keeps retrying until they have adapted a strategy which allows for progression to the next portion of the game. That said, the ‘Hardboiled’ mode is not easy. At all. I can’t even pass the first level. Much quicker life and ammunition draining and smarter Artificial Intelligence make this mode a great challenge for those who found the regular game play mode far too easy. There is also a coop mode, which I did not get to play before this review was written.
The game is a side-scrolling action adventure with a flavor of puzzling thrown in, and some flight sections to mix it up a little (hence the name Rocketbirds). This gameplay combination is not new and Rocketbirds does not revolutionize the genre in any way, sadly. Put bluntly, the gameplay is quite generic. However, it’s still where the game shines. Why, one asks? Because it works. Controlling your Cock of War is tight and responsive, and the combat (shootin’ penguins) is a concept easy to grasp. However, the game would be a lot more shallow were it not for the strategy and puzzling aspect of the game. First of all, the combat may well be simple but during the later sections of the game (with the exception of the extremely patterned final boss) one needs to apply strategy to gunfights to survive. Some enemies have to be rolled behind and quickly shot in the back to be killed, and as there are more enemies on the screen and you can only attack those on one side of you, quick and strategic orientation is necessary. Big, bulky penguins with riot shields require a different approach than Putzki’s elite troops. Once hit, ending an enemy’s life with one of your three guns (pistol, assault rifle and shotgun) is relatively easy, since the shotgun is almost an instant kill and the other two weapons are able to juggle the penguins, during which they are unable to harm you and thus die a quick death. I found the lack of variety in the effect of the guns a bit of a downer, but the strategic combat makes up for that.
The game also offers some puzzling bits. These basically comprise the player finding a way to progress by opening doors or different paths. A neat and unique feature is present in the way some of these puzzles have to be solved. Apart from your gun set and infinite grenades, Hardboiled Chicken also carries ‘brainbugs’ with him. These brainbugs can be thrown at an enemy and allow the player to control one of the penguin troops in order to open up new paths your chicken cannot reach in any other way. This puzzle element is most definitely what keeps this game from being dull and repetitive, as it requires some thought and the solution is not always obvious.
After a few levels of pure ground guerilla warfare, Hardboiled Chicken often grabs his jetpack to destroy enemies in the air (who also have to go through the cumbersome process of carrying a jetpack because penguins and chickens are both not known for their ability to fly) and while these portions of the game aren’t necessarily bad, they are unimaginative for sure. The controls require some getting used to because your Chicken always moves and aims in the exact direction you move the Vita analog stick in and the high sensitivity makes them fairly twitchy. Luckily, these flight sections are not too frequent.
Rocketbirds is graphically speaking an excellent port. The game runs in the Vita’s native resolution, and while the game is not as visually stunning as the Vita’sother two-dimensional platformer, Rayman Origins, it looks crisp and vibrant. The game is a two-dimensional side-scrolling adventure, but is visually presented as what is often referred to as ‘2.5D’. This fits the semi-realistic style of the game’s backdrop very well, which surprisingly also matches the cartoony character sprites. Similar to titles such as Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, various visual gags are also hidden in this background. This excellent presentation is also shown in various cutscenes, in which the story of the game is told. While other dialogue and tone in the game is mostly meant to amuse the player (which it does with success) the cutscenes tell the more serious story of Hardboiled’s past and the oppressive nature of the penguins. However, the light-hearted nature of the game also shows in the cutscenes, as well as some references to Orwell’s magnum opus 1984, with which the game shares the subject matter of oppression and the fight for freedom.
This fight for freedom is also a recurring theme in the excellent soundtrack of the game (written by alternative rock band New World Revolution) which perfectly fits Rocketbirds and succeeds in conveying its serious message in a not too serious manner. However, there is often no music playing in the background, making some events seem rather dull and anti-climactic, while the final battles evoke a sweeping feeling of power and revolution. The sound effects, while decent, don’t make up for this silence.
All in all, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a humorous, light-hearted title sporting enjoyable gameplay. It’s graphics, sound and length are an excellent fit to the Vita. The gameplay is nothing original and just downright generic and the flight sections are bland, but considering all game elements and the fact that this game is incredibly polished make it a worthwhile experience.
GAME NAME: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
DEVELOPER(S): Ratloop Asia
PUBLISHER(S): Ratloop Asia
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, PS Vita
GENRE(S): Run and gun
RELEASE DATE(S): February 13, 2013 (EU) February 12, 2012 (US)