If I came to you with an idea for war game that melds aspects of Shadow Complex with Abe’s Odyssey and is fronted by a chicken, you’d think I was mental. Yet here we are. Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a bat-shit crazy mix of the surreal, but from the moment you pick it up and let rip on your first batch of penguins, it’s hard not to fall in love.
Rocketbirds sees the player cast into the role of Hardboiled Chicken; a dim-witted chicken who was abducted as a chick and brainwashed into fighting for the evil Putzki regime. Hardboiled later finds a way to break free of the hold the regime has over him and vows to end this dictatorship.
It’s a simple premise, and one we’ve played before elsewhere. But in spite of this, the team at Ratloop Asia have managed to leave their mark and excel in giving an over-used story, depth.
Mid-way through the game, there’s a cut-scene that shows Hardboiled as a podgy youngster before he’s abducted. This image is spliced with Hardboiled shooting aimlessly. As his rooster wattle grows, his eyes – that once were brimming with life – change, until all that remains is a merciless killer. It may be a videogame, he may be a chicken, but there are some fantastic imageries of war on display here.
On many levels, Rocketbirds is the gaming equivalent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Every cut-scene is visually stunning. There’s an obvious attention to detail when it comes to animation and making everything crisp that puts some of the AAA blockbusters to shame. The gorgeous aesthetic is complemented by a stereoscopic 3D world. Tilting the PS Vita in different directions shimmies the world slightly; creating a sense of 3D in a 2D environment.
The strangest part is that the 3D (or 2.5D if we’re being technical) feels and looks superior to the fully realised 3D on the Nintendo 3DS. It never detracts from the action or puzzle sequences, and if anything, strengthens them. Plus it doesn’t give you a migraine after several hours of play, which is always a bonus.
Accompanying the lush visuals is a soundtrack that borders on perfection. All the songs used in Rocketbirds are performed by New World Revolution who lend themselves to the game’s overall feel effortlessly. The Indie rock sound that New World Revolution brings to the table adds emotion and a type of narrative to the already powerful cut-scenes.
Of course, standout visuals and a killer soundtrack would be meaningless if the game itself can’t match up to its self-set high standards.
Gameplay centres around a mix of run-and-gun shooting and puzzles. Players start with a handgun, but can later unlock a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun; all of which can be upgraded. Ammo is handled in a similar vein to how role-play-games handle mana; there’s a bar that depletes with each shot fired. Handguns use up the least ammo per-bullet, while the shotgun uses the most.
For a 2D side-scroller, it’s amazing how weighty each of the guns handle. Even though the handgun is the weakest, there’s something immensely satisfying about hammering the trigger -- you can almost feel the recoil. Suffice to say, it’s the type of pistol fans of the original Halo would kill for.
It’s because of aspects like this, Rocketbirds does, at times, come across as overly violent. I don’t think it’s intentionally graphic in the same way a game like Mortal Kombat is, but after hours of playing, you do start to notice how much blood has actually been spilt; which for a game about war, does make sense. In games like Call of Duty, there’s no sense of realism, and a player’s death toll is pushed to the back of their mind. Rocketbirds is one of the first games that makes us aware of the constant killing or forcing people (read: penguins) to commit suicide. So in a sense, its over-the-top violence accomplishes what it sets out to do … showcase what war is.
Puzzles normally involve having to find a way to move a crate from point A to point B or mind-control an enemy to press a switch while navigating a way round other enemies or turrets. These puzzles may have you stuck for a few minutes at a time before instantly clicking how to get the job done. They’re fun, but easy. Mind-controlling enemies makes for a nice change of pace, but again, the solution is always too easy.
In between certain levels are flying sections that sees Hardboiled blast around the screen while picking off enemies and attempting to grab health and ammo top ups. These missions are Marmite; you’ll love or loathe them. Normally I’d be in the latter – I always found Super Mario Bros.’ underwater levels a pointless exercise in nothingness – but in the case of Rocketbirds, I quite enjoyed them. Like the puzzle sections, it helps to break the game up to avoid the feeling of repetition.
If there’s one argument I hear on a daily basis, it’s that the PS Vita has no games. Along with Gravity Rush, Wipeout, Uncharted, Frobisher Says, and Streetfighter X Tekken, Rocketbirds is another example of the how great the Vita is when developers ‘get’ how to use the system to produce outstanding results.
Rocketbirds isn’t without its faults: It’s short and the puzzles are easy. But it makes up for these shortcoming with a beautifully stylised look, phenomenal soundtrack, interesting setting, and most importantly, it’s clucking good fun.
If you’re after an inexpensive arcade title to lose yourself in for a few hours, then Rocketbirds comes easy to recommend.
Born in Cyrodiil but raised in Ferelden, more commonly know as England. Wesley Copeland is a passionate writer with more opinions than an ostrich.