It went from Flash to fully-fledged PS3 game, and was deemed plenty worthy enough to warrant a sequel thereafter. Now that sequel has made it to the PS Vita, Sony’s fading handheld device. Will Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken give it the protein injection it needs?
This is a game about the Cold War. The post-allied tensions between two global superpowers and their mutual distrust of each other’s politics. The threat of communist censorship encroaching completely on the freedom of the people. The penguin dictator Putzki, and the assassination attempt on him by a steroid dependent chicken. You heard.
Beneath the ostensibly cartoony façade beats the heart of a pretty savage military shooter. A game that, should the avian characters be replaced by humanoids, would probably see its already high PEGI rating denied completely. As it stands, however, you play Hardboiled, the beefy chicken in question, and you are tasked with taking out Putzki and his league of penguin secret police by any means necessary.
Of course, those “means” are predominantly some hardcore bird-on-bird violence, as you tear through your feathered foes with an ever-growing arsenal of automatic weapons. The game itself is laid out as a 2D platformer, although it does have a pleasing parallax 3D effect that you can manipulate by tilting the Vita. The violence is punctuated by plenty of puzzle sections, which mostly means looking for keycards that allow you to get to the next area.
At times it’s fiendishly clever, leaving you scratching your head for a while, but it rarely borders on frustrating. One element the makes up the more complex puzzling is the introduction of a mind control bug that’s thrown like a grenade, allowing you to command whoever it explodes nearest. Once their work is done, the only option to return control to your chicken is suicide by revolver, complete with a burst of bloody feathers.
It’s a nice touch, and one of the few dotted around the game. For example, when you’re peppering a penguin with lead they are juggled backwards, but stop at the edge of your screen so you never have to run to the next screen to finish them off. Or there’s the ability to change weapon with either the touchscreen or D-pad. Having to use the rear touchpad to angle the arc of your throws is less intuitive, but you soon get used to it.
The controls can be tweaked slightly to suit your needs, but of course you’re going to lean the way of the touchscreen simply because you’re playing on a Vita and you’re desperately trying to get your money’s worth. The rooster controls well, thankfully, and you’ll never skid off a platform post jump or fall somewhere you didn’t mean to.
Poultry in motion
Visually, it’s something of a looker, running flawlessly at 60fps with a crisp and colourful display. The animations for the characters are also a pleasure to watch, both in game and during the cut-scenes. The dialogue isn’t half as witty as it could have been, however, especially considering the nature of the game. There isn’t all that much of it, though, with the animated sections playing out to songs by New World Revolution, who – according to their Myspace page – are an “alternative space rock organisation”. Make of that what you will.
The levels are further broken up by sections labelled “jetpaction”, which is obviously a horrible amalgamation of the words ‘jetpack’ and ‘action’, presumably dreamt up by the same bum-brained drone who comes up with things like Brangelina for the Daily Mail. Still, the sections themselves are enjoyable, and have you flying around and shooting in 360 degrees at your similarly equipped enemies. A pleasant distraction, and one that alleviates any boredom that might have been creeping in from the platforming.
Unlikely that there would be however, and at 15 chapters the game certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s also a co-op mode with a separate story, which uses the same basic level layouts, but provides further challenge by making the two friendly fowls half the height of the main protagonist, so a lot of standing-on-shoulders type cooperation will be required.
It’s slick and well designed then, surprisingly graphic, and lots of ridiculous fun. It’s bizarre and highly stylized, and puts you in mind of old platforming classics like the brilliant Earthworm Jim. It may be too simplified, however, and its solid foundations feel like they could have been built on much higher. The ability to aim your gun outside of the jetpack sections is sorely missing, for example. But credit to me for making it through this entire review without a single Angry Birds reference, and credit to Ratloop for an otherwise superb Vita game.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, by Ratloop Asia, is available now for PS Vita (reviewed), PS3 and PC.