October 19th, 2011 | By Richard Glenn
If spending a week with Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken has taught me anything, it’s that gleeful masochism mixes rather pleasantly with quirky animated buffoonery. That’s a welcoming affirmation too, because goodness knows we’ve always wanted a childish veneer behind which to conceal our latent yearning for mass slaughter.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is more or less Rocketbirds’ raison d’être, and the unerring stubbornness with which the game sticks to its design brief is indicative of a studio focusing on one primary goal – to let mayhem ensue.
Rocketbirds is best described as a side-scrolling 2D action platformer in a style strongly reminiscent of Super Metroid and the early Oddworld games. The player steps into the role of Hardboiled Chicken, a grizzled war veteran of the avian variety, as he seeks to bring an end to the oppressive totalitarian regime of an evil penguin army, led by Putzki — a ruthless figurehead straight out of the 1960s brand of McCarthyist Cold War scaremongering. Hardboiled’s first port of call is an arsenal of light and heavy firearms, ranging from the humble pistol to the behemothic rocket launcher, allowing him to mow down his flightless adversaries at the simple touch of a button.
Should the all-guns-blazing approach to diplomatic negotiation not do the trick, you’re also decked out with a small selection of projectile weapons, including frag grenades and a special type of explosive that allows you to control the minds of out-of-reach enemies, forcing them to unlock doors to inaccessible areas. Then, once they’ve finished doing your bidding, you simply force them to shoot themselves in the head, which is every bit as eye-popping as it is riproaringly hilarious.
Regular platforming levels are interspersed with occasional excursions with your jetpack, thrusting you in the heat of side-scrolling aerial warfare against wave after wave of whatever the penguins call their air force division. During these levels, despite the camera zooming out to the point at which you’re little more than a puny dot on the screen, there’s still an off-putting tendency for the action to spill off the screen, often leaving you frustrated and disheartened by the constant need to seek out a foe who’s inexplicably decided to take position several hundreds yards in the distance. Still, the variety is appreciated, even if only to get a few moments’ respite from pumping penguins full of lead.
If that all sounds rather standard and uninventive, that’s because it really is. The truth is that Rocketbirds does very little that hasn’t been done dozens of times before by bigger and arguably more successful studios. In fact, were the platforming and jetpacking to stand alone as the game’s sole attractions, the whole experience would be somewhat bare and forgettable.
Thankfully, though, that’s where the visual style come in to spare Rocketbirds’ blushes. The game’s madcap tale of valour, deceit and revenge unfolds through a series of comically voiced cutscenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a children’s Saturday morning cartoon, if you took out all the killing and torturing, that is. Its quirky humour translates successfully to the level design itself, and you might even get in a titter or two at some of the background cultural references and jocular messages etched on the wall as you splatter them with penguin blood and entrails.
The game’s soundtrack also impresses as you storm through levels with heavy metal-inspired melodies backing up the action-packed set pieces, whilst the slower, more sombre tunes float eerily in the background as you try your hand at solving one of Rocketbirds’ numerous puzzle sections.
Rocketbirds isn’t a reinvention of anything you might hold dear in the gaming world, but it’s a well-presented little barrel of laughs which, if nothing else, will allow you to take out your real-world frustrations on an anthropomorphic species. Look closely enough at the game’s snazzy sheen of paint and you’ll start too see the cracks inflicted by its occasionally lacklustre enemy AI, confusing level design and generally repetitive gameplay, but take it for what it is, a charming and satisfying piece of interactive fun, and you’ll probably get a few hours of juvenile capering out of it.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is available on the Playstation Network from Wednesday 19th October for $11.99/£7.99/€9.99. Playstation Plus users can also purchase the game at a discounted price during its first week of release.