I wasn’t sure what to make of this game from the screenshots I saw, or even what it’d be about. I figured it might be something that was capitalizing on the whole Angry Birds craze, and in a way I was right… but I actually think this is a lot more fun, and is a very different kind of game from those other birds… though these are just as angry. Originally released on the PS3 in 2011, the developers have brought Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken to the Vita now, with some new features to entice people to pick up this version as well. Is it worth it? Let’s take a look.
Rocketbirds Hardboiled Chicken is the loving tale of a chicken who survived being boiled at birth and grew up to be the most ultimate badass assault chicken there ever was. He figured out he was working for the wrong side and turned on his masters, and is now working with the Cardinals to take down the Penguins who have hastily taken over Albatropolis under a Nazi-like regime. Oh who am I kidding, this is B-movie plot of the week at best, and yet, it all still works, as it knows it’s not taking itself seriously and plays on that, making it a fantastic satire of those over the top action and war movies. The dialogue, when you get it, is pretty amusing and delivered in gibberish with a word bubble to tell you what they’re saying. While you’re not going to get anything spectacular out of it story-wise, it is amusing to watch it unfold as you play.
There is an entirely separate co-op campaign that has 6 different characters to choose from to play as, nick-named the “Dirty Half-Dozen”. Co-op has online or ad-hoc play to it. The biggest issue going online has is that there is no online matchmaking. One of your friends has to have this game, be in the game, and be online to jump in together online. Ad-hoc is a little more forgiving. As such I haven’t gotten to really get into co-op, but if you have a friend with a copy there’s another ten levels of mayhem to get through.
The game uses a faux 3D effect tied to the gyroscope on the Vita, to something of a neat effect, giving what would normally be a standard 2D platformer some depth by allowing the player to tilt to get a better view of what’s ahead or to simply move the world around a bit. Rocketbirds has a very distinct art style that really works well at driving home the concept of the cartoon hardass hero in a dystopian world trying to over throw the penguin overlords. There are propaganda posters lining walls that ring out like scenes from John Carpenter’s They Live, television screens spouting the penguin rhetoric, and animated cutscenes that really drive the narrative of the game outside of the guards talking. Now this isn’t going for realism by any stretch of the imagination, but the game has this visual cohesion, even when you’re blasting around on a rocket pack taking out penguins in the sky, that just works, and works well. The animations look great while you’re playing and running at the Vita’s full resolution doesn’t hurt it at all either.
While the voice overs are all in a kind of bird gibberish with word bubbles to tell you what they’re saying, the regular audio for moving around and using weapons and doors and such is decent. What really sold me was the soundtrack, done by the indie group New World Revolution, who’ve done an amazing job turning the cutscenes into so much more than what they would have been otherwise while providing some decent in level music as well. Honestly, the music was the one reason I kept my audio on, as it surprised the hell out of me how well it fit with the game and how decent it was.
The controls are pretty straight-forward. You move, crouch and roll with your left analog stick. The d-pad lets you select from the three different weapons you’re carrying, and when you hold the left trigger to prime a grenade, the D-pad lets you select between the standard grenade and the mind-control grenade. You can duck in cover using the triangle at key spots along walls, as well as interact with objects, like picking up ammo crates and health or hitting buttons. The X button makes you jump, and the right trigger fires off your weapons. The back touch screen is set-up to let you create a launch arc for your grenades, giving you a decent amount of precision, even if it’s a little touchy at times. When aiming grenades, little touches go along way, big swipes will completely hose your careful aiming. When you’re using your jetpack, the right trigger still fires, the analog controls your direction, and the X button controls your thrust.
Gameplay focuses more on the action platforming than the jetpack segments, which also lead to the action platforming, usually in a blimp. The levels are designed around getting around various locked doors, blockaded areas or traps with timed turrets that can wipe you out in one go. Using the level set-up to your advantage is key, such as hiding in cubbies to get around the turrets timed fire, using your mind-control grenades through grates to take command of a penguin guard and getting them to open up doors for you or mow down their friends before taking themselves out. It took me a little bit to get used to where the platforms actually sit, mainly because the game is built around having a bit of depth to it, so sometimes a ledge isn’t a ledge but a receding wall that the perspective makes look like a ledge you can grab. Once you’re around that, though, and have a good grasp on it, getting to a ledge properly isn’t that hard. I will say while it has a platformer feel, this is almost more a side-scrolling shooter with some elements from a platformer than anything else, feeling very much like an old school Metroid title with a very different theme to it.
There is a trophy system, and no, you can’t earn all of them simply by completing levels. There are some challenges to them. There are hidden signs you have to work to get to in each level, but while most levels have a few options to get around, most of the time the way out is pretty much the same every time you play. The co-op with another Vita owner is a nice touch, and is kind of carried over from the PS3 version, though there’s obviously no split-screen and no match-making to speak of. So there is a reason to go back to this even when you’re done with the single player portion of things, if you have a friend with the game too. There’s also a hardcore mode where you only get a pistol and a knife to make it through all the levels in single player.
The game does get harder as you go along. Levels get more intricate, challenges get a bit tougher and you’re forced to get more creative to get around obstacles, like turrets and locked doors, which might have you going for quite a ways before you can get through that one locked door. It is a shorter game, though it can be completed in single player in about five or six hours if you’re taking your time or dying a lot. The cost, however, reflects that, and for the cost you’re getting a pretty decently polished title that has some nice upgrades to it over the PS3 version, like slightly redesigned levels. If you have both versions, you do get some co-op unlocks, and there’s a deal where if you have the PS3 version, the Vita game has a discount to it. I would not feel slighted paying full price for this. It’s a great title for the cost and I actually thought it would have cost more.
While this harkens back to some older platformers, there is a unique flavor to this game that you can’t really get anywhere else. Yes, this is yet another version, but rather than port, there are some improvements made to the game, including new areas and some features that only work on the Vita. While it is short, it was a blast to get in and play, and I actually had a hard time putting it down once I got going, even when I was frustrated at my ability to get around a certain set of turrets in the later chapters. This is one of those games where if you get it and you like it, you’ll have a great time playing it and won’t put it down until you’re done.
This is one of those titles where I think people will think about getting it, and for what most consider a title lacking system, it does provide that. Even for people who don’t like platformers specifically, there’s enough satire and commentary on war dripping from the game to hold someone’s interest. I never really had too many problems once I figured out what I was doing wrong in trying to hit certain ledges that weren’t actually ledges. The only complaint I might really have on this is the load times are a bit longer than I’d like for a title of this size and scope. This is especially the case if you have to reload a lot in one area because you’re not quite getting the timing right to get around a trap and die quite a bit. Overall though, I’d have to say the game was a blast to play, even with the unexpectedly long loading times and a complete lack of online matchmaking.
Short Attention Span Summary
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is one of those games that comes along and resparks an interest in a game genre you thought you’d passed over a long time ago. With an interesting take on war, the satire involved in the single player campaign and tongue-in-cheek B-movie dialogue, coupled with an amazing soundtrack, really drive the game forward from being just another ho-hum platformer into something unique. The added Vita features help separate it a bit from the PS3 version, while providing another reason to pick up the game if you’d already done so. On a system many regard as hurting for games, this is a welcome addition that I’d recommend to anyone who likes a good action platformer or who liked them in the past. While you can get your money’s worth out of the single player alone, I don’t think it’ll be for everyone.