Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
You’re a soldier. That’s what they tell you, anyway. They’ve owned you since before you were born, telling you what to do, indoctrinating you to be a powerful killing machine and never asking what you wanted to be. They send you to war to murder innocents, and they laugh about it. Civilians live in fear and only a few dare speak out. You have no friends, only fellow soldiers who dare not step a toe out of line. Brutality and oppression are all anyone knows. When the opportunity comes, will you be ready to fight for your own liberation?
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken doesn’t seem like the type of title to take on hard issues, but its tale of a bloody, revenge-filled plebeian uprising is an easy one to get behind. The story isn’t the star of the show in this side-scrolling shooter, but it’s surprisingly effective and deeper than one might expect out of a title that features personified birds waging war against each other.
Players assume the role of Hardboiled, who lands in military prison after saving an innocent bird from execution by his squadmates. The game plays similarly to any number of side-scrolling shooters, with an occasional bit of light puzzle-solving breaking up the action. Hardboiled can carry two weapons at a time, an assault rifle and shotgun, which improve over the course of the game. He also comes equipped with an unlimited supply of grenades and also some mind-controlling worms that turn enemies into weapons at your disposal.
The single-player component of the game sees Hardboiled escaping from a military base, meeting up with the resistance, taking to the skies a few times to take down the enemy’s dirigibles and landing to take their headquarters on directly. Enemies come in a half-dozen varieties, but none are very taxing save for one boss. Indeed, one of Rocketbirds’ biggest weaknesses is that it is a very easy game – generous health/ammo upgrades fill most stages and the enemies aren’t terribly complex. Strategy (for both you and your foes) involves little more than choosing to stand or crouch. You can also use a roll ability – but only in the single-player campaign.
Rocketbirds features a truncated version of the singeplayer campaign for co-op, using many of the same stages but telling a different story and featuring new characters. Oddly, there are a number of design changes versus the core game, and I think the co-op mode suffers because of them. For starters, you lose grenades. The mind control-worms I understand because they’re primarily used for puzzle-solving and when you have a real-life partner they’re not needed. Grenades though, those I missed. I also missed that I couldn’t use the roll ability. For whatever reason, you can’t roll in the multiplayer.
The funny thing is, I started with the co-op campaign and noticed their omission before I played the single-player and found them there. Without grenades, I often found myself without ammo or a way to defend myself. Without the roll ability, I was simply walking by shielded enemies that I needed to get by in order to attack their exposed rears. It worked, but it looked out of place and too casual. In the co-op campaign, players can pick each other up to reach higher ledges, but strangely, jumping and picking up your friend are assigned to the same button, causing you to pick up your friend instead of jumping more times than you’d like. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way grenades were thrown – you can’t toss them quickly, as each has to be aimed.
Either single-player or co-op though, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken comes recommended because it has such style. It takes itself so seriously that it becomes more than just a parody. The silliness of the characters stands in vibrant, sharp contrast to the more sinister, hand-drawn military bases you’ll wander and the barren, run down cities that you’ll liberate. There are some questionable design choices, it could stand to be longer and it could control better. From a sum of its parts standpoint, I probably shouldn’t have liked it as much as I did, but it is a satisfying diversion that I do recommend.