Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken Review
If you've been with the Vita since the get-go, you probably view each week's PlayStation Store update like I do; it might not offer exactly what you want, but at least it is SOMETHING. The lack of a serious stream of new games has forced me to download titles I would not have otherwise been interested in, just for a chance to play with the most glaring example of wasted potential in a consumer product I've seen in my lifetime. The first part of 2013 has brought one great new title to the Vita, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, and a few more are just over the horizon, making the urge (need?) to download whatever is new a little easier to beat back. That is where Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken Portable comes in. Previously a PC title, Rocketbirds would have made a splash this time last year, a time when there was almost nothing to play on the handheld. But with the expanding of the Vita's library, Rocketbirds ends up feeling just OK; a budget downloadable title to be played, possibly enjoyed and forgotten.
If you aren't familiar with the PC game, as I wasn't, Rocketbirds is a side-scrolling shooter with some light puzzle solving and a few vehicle stages inserted for good measure. Anyone old enough to remember the mountain of side-scrollers from the 16-bit era will feel right at home with Rocketbirds. Locales change throughout the game, but the basic structure doesn't; move from screen to screen, unload on enemies with various weapons of varying power, find keycards, open doors, pick up a secret or two and repeat. The vehicle stages, to their credit, offer some genuine thrills. Players don a rocketpack and fly all over the screen in tight circles, blasting at enemies as they appear. These segments can be a lot of fun and pose a more serious challenge than some of the easier side-scrolling bits. The whole game only lasts a handful of hours; it stays entertaining for the duration and manages to not wear out its welcome.
As you may have noticed, I've yet to mention the game's story or characters. Those folks I was talking to before, the ones who played Spawn, Aladdin, The Adventures of Batman and Robin, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, Alien 3, Gunstar Heroes, Earthworm Jim, Vectorman or any of the other half billion side-scrollers from days gone by, know that the setup rarely means as much as the gameplay itself; these games were all essentially the same with different coats of paint and small variations of the tried and true formula. Rocketbirds fits right into the same mold. You play as a Rambo-esque chicken warrior in a one-man war against an army of authoritarian penguins and their despotic leadership. The gameplay might be well-worn territory and the story and setup don't change that much, but they are off the wall enough to elevate the game just above the same old, same old. Some genuinely funny parts punctuate some of the cutscenes and spoken (well, grumbled, on the bad guys' part) dialogue, which helps, but again, there isn't much going on here you haven't seen done better before.
Don't get me wrong; I am all about so old school game design. The problem with Rocketbirds is that from the very beginning to the very end, I struggled with the controls. At first, I felt as though I must have missed something. Was there a button or action that wasn't adequately explained? Nope. You have a jump button, a fire button and an action (open doors, pick stuff up) button, and, of course, the d-pad or analog stick governs movement. The problem is everything feels imprecise and floaty. I often found my character rolling when he should have been running. Many times the most accurate of jumps didn't register, and instead of grabbing a ledge, I either fell far short or seemingly sailed right past. And when I did manage to grab a ledge, there was no mechanism for hang and shoot, meaning if I pulled myself up onto said ledge, it was often into a stream of seemingly undodgeable enemy fire. None of this stuff every breaks the game or makes it unplayable, but these little missteps in gameplay are a constant annoyance and break your concentration on a minute-to-minute basis.
Will you enjoy Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken Portable? If you had a SNES or Genesis, I'd venture a guess and say yeah, it is probably worth the budget price and few hours you'll get out of it. The story and style, though largely inconsequential, are interesting and funny at times, but again, control hiccups and odd design choices will keep breaking the game's spell over most players. Like I said originally, Rocketbirds would have been the Vita game to get this time last year, when the launch titles mystique dropped off and the horizon wasn't looking so bright. But now, with action games like the AAA stealth adventure Sly Cooper, the odd-but-lovable Earth Defense Force 2017 and the flawed but underappreciated PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, it is tough to urge anyone to race out and download Rocketbirds. Once you've finished the best the Vita has to offer, though, Rocketbirds may just take the edge off waiting for the next big thing.
Final Rating: 68%. Control hiccups and odd design choices keep breaking the game's spell.