Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken takes a stand against the forces of a totalitarian administration under the control of a penguin dictator. It’s a side-scroller that adopts a simple reign and applies it to a four-hour journey to reclaim a nation. It unlaces the boots of Hardboiled, the baddest of rebel chicken, who will quarrel through fifteen chapters of clones and Nazi-esque penguin soldiers in an attempt to restore his country.
It’s a beautiful sight, Rocketbirds. It’s a cliche maxim, but viewing a screenshot of the game versus seeing it run in real-time are two completely different experiences. I had no interest in Rocketbirds until I played the PlayStation Network demo–through which I realized the indie game’s impressive production quality.
It has a hand-drawn art style, and stands out from anything else visually. Its lighting effects, real-time shadows, and sweeping atmosphere usher a visual delight. Through areas including a forest–whose light shines in through distanced trees–an underground subway, a nationalistic museum (penguin nationalism), city apartments, and other urban locations, every bit of the world is a joy to take in. The game is actually built on a 3D plane, so you can see the depth in the environment by swirling the right analog stick.
Rocketbirds has two gameplay modes: campaign and co-op. Campaign mode sees the player take back the nation as Hardboiled; co-op mode follows a group of budgies out to rescue their leader’s Chansey-looking daughter, who for some reason will continue to run away every time you save her.
There are key differences, gameplay-wise, between each mode. Hardboiled’s abilities differ greatly from the budgies’. Hardboiled is taller, allowing him to jump and climb higher; the budgies are shorter, so in order to reach high ledges, they must jump on top of each other first (teamwork). Hardboiled is able to wield a few weapons at a time, including mind-control bugs and grenades; each budgie is tied to its respective gun the entire game, and cannot use hand-thrown projectiles. Hardboiled can take cover from enemies by hiding in the shadows; the budgies cannot. Hardboiled can crouch and roll; the budgies, considering their height, cannot.
In substance, the co-op mode feels like a downgraded campaign mode–altered to apply team-based tactics/puzzles. I didn’t quite enjoy both that, and the co-op mode’s sort-of “alternative storyline.” In co-op, Hardboiled’s feat against the the penguin dictator never occurred, and instead you play through the same stages (five stages less, actually)–once again, lightly changed–trying to rescue Chansey from the penguin dictator, who’s kidnapped her for whatever reason (maybe he’s wounded?). Me and a friend beat it in about two-and-a-half hours. To me, it felt like a slightly modified second play-through of the campaign–or a feature thrown just to say the game has a couple hours’ worth of extra play time. To my friend, who hadn’t touched the game prior, it felt like a completely new experience.
Though I have gripes with co-op mode, I thoroughly enjoyed Rocketbirds‘ single-player. It’s the full gameplay experience co-op lacks, and features rocket chapters, where Hardboiled straps on his jet pack, battles enemies in the sky, infiltrates enemy airships, and sets them to self-destruct. In these scenes, you’re able to fly around anywhere on screen, dodging enemy fire, and hitting them back in the process. I also better enjoyed the campaign’s puzzles, which made use of abilities not offered in co-op, such as the mind-control bug.
Most of the time, you’ll be wandering the stage, which is linear but non-linear within itself, finding keys to open doors and form a path forward. It’s certainly very well crafted. But that’s not to say it’s perfect. I would’ve liked it if every new gun find wasn’t preset. Some scenes, including one where Hardboiled’s guns are removed and must solely rely on mind-control bugs to get by, struck me as odd after you use the bug to make the first soldier commit suicide–why can’t you pick up their gun?
Rocketbirds does it right with its superb soundtrack–created by New World Revolution–and it suits the game well. I actually purchased the Rocketbirds theme: “Once I Was Lost,” and “Double Agents” after completing the game, because they were stuck in my head for a few days. As far as cutscenes go, the game doesn’t do much in terms of quantity, but certainly shines in quality. They’re not very long either, but they’re scenes that, coupled with New World Revolution’s music, one can appreciate.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a fun-to-play PlayStation Network side-scroller that touches upon interesting themes in a chickeny portrayal. It hits the all the right notes in terms of music and campaign, despite a few flaws, but is unfortunately very short-lived. A four-hour game, I only wish Rocketbirds was able to offer more in terms of gameplay length aside from its co-op campaign, which feels like a rehashed single-player campaign.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A playthrough of both the single-player and co-op campaigns were completed. Rocketbirds: Hardoboiled Chicken released for PlayStation Network on October 18, 2011 in North America.