PSN Review: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken



If you’ve been chomping at the bit for another game in the Oddworld series then, well, you still have an indeterminately long wait ahead of you. But making the delay that much easier is Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, a new PSN exclusive which perfectly recaptures the 2D side-scrolling platform mechanics of Abe’s Odyssey and filters them through its own unique and awesome animated music video aesthetics.

The hilarious story takes place in the animated world of Albatropolis. Fascist penguin dictator Putzki is ruling tyrannically over the cutesy animal equivalent of Reagan-era Soviet Russia. The people’s last hope is a small band of resistance led by Hardboiled, a super-soldier chicken wearing a Max Fenix bandana and toting a jetpack and machine gun.
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As in Abe’s Odyssey (or Flashback/Another World if you want to go crawl even further along the branches of the 2D platform puzzler family tree), the game is laid out as a series of corridor environments strewn with enemies, lever-pulling puzzles and grabbable higher ledges. Rather than have the camera pan along with your movements, each level is broken up into small “rooms” – walk off the edge of the screen and you’ll pop into the next section of corridor. There’s also a run-and-gun element to the game as the fearless chicken hero packs a range of weapons to blast and bullet-juggle evil penguins with, though the emphasis is on wrapping your brain around environmental puzzles rather than killing everything. And much like the Mudokon heroes of the Oddworld series, Hardboiled does plenty of speedy forward-rolling and has the ability to take over the minds of enemies, here through the use of throwable grenade-style brainbugs.

The puzzles use a healthy mix of physics (finding the right angle and trajectory at which to toss a grenade or brainbug to kill or command an enemy), combat (taking over the minds of foes to shoot a path through their friends or access areas/switches inaccessible to Hardboiled) and good old-fashioned platforming (shifting, swapping and stacking crates to access higher areas). Though the tougher puzzles are few and far between, in general they’re intelligently designed and there’s not a tonne of hand-holding; though you might need a couple of tries at some stages, Rocketbirds is smart and subtle about laying out hints rather than pushing you into a frustrating trial-and-error corner. Checkpoints are perfectly placed and enemies only respawn when you need them to complete an objective, for example, which clues to in to when you need to body-jack a penguin foe.
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Mixing things up a little are recurring sections of the game which have you steering Hardboiled around as he soars through the sky, picking off enemies piling out from a giant zeppelin. There are penguins with their own jetpacks spraying machine gun fire and others wearing backpack helicopter propellers as they fire homing rockets in your general direction. Using a tight, swift arc of movement, you can end your enemies with your gun or use your high-flying jetpack skills to guide their own homing missiles right back into them. These sections aren’t quite as engaging as the side-scrolling elements, but they do help add a bit of variety to the proceedings.

The Oddworld-inspired gameplay is excellent, but where Rocketbirds truly comes into its own is in its presentation. The writing and design team clearly had a blast cooking up the world of Hardboiled Chicken, and it’s a infectious experience. From Cold War Communist penguins to an Arnie-inspired Euro-henchman, there’s giggles aplenty, but the game truly excels in its cutscenes. Dialogue free and delivered like music videos, the artsy cinematic animated sequences are phenomenally stylish, beautifully drawn and, when coupled with the wonderful indie rock soundtrack from New World Revolution, they really bump Rocketbirds to a higher plateau than the majority of 2D sidescroller throwback games.
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If there’s a downside, it’s that the game never quite feels long enough. You could chalk it up to just wanting more of something awesome (and a shorter lifespan is only to be expected with a downloadable title), but the pacing of puzzles is such that Rocketbirds ends just when it feels like its really finding its groove and finally providing more challenging platforming brain-teasers for you to tussle with. There’s a local co-op mode thrown in, which offers a slightly tweaked version of the solo campaign, but it doesn’t offer anything that the main game lacks.

Like a Gorillaz music video and Abe’s Odyssey tossed in a blender, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a wonderful blend of old-fashioned platform puzzling and gorgeous modern presentation with tonnes of character. While it feels far too short and light on challenge, it’s an incredibly fun experience from start to finish and one of the most fantastic looking PSN titles available.

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Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is available to buy exclusively on the PlayStation Network Store now priced £7.99/$11.99.