Publisher: Ratloop Asia
Developer: Ratloop Asia
In a lot of ways, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken isn't all that different from countless games that have come before it. For one thing, it's a side-scrolling platformer/shooter — in other words, the sort of game you could've played on even some of the earliest consoles (though, obviously, Rocketbirds has substantially better graphics). Further, its plot revolves around a soldier out for some ultraviolent revenge — again, so far, so '80s, especially since the game's hero sounds suspiciously Sylvester Stallone-esque.
The key difference: you're playing as a chicken striving to overthrow his penguin oppressors. I'm thinking that's not a theme that's been used by very many games. On its own, that's enough to make Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken stand out from all the other side-scrolling platformer/shooters that have come before it.
Of course, to say that's the only difference between Rocketbirds and games like Contra or Metal Slug would be to do the game a disservice. It's got plenty of other things that make it unique beyond the simple fact that you're a chicken trying to shoot your way out of a penguin-dominated world — and these things go a long way towards making the game a worthwhile purchase.
Take the excellent world-building, for example. Developers Ratloop didn't just come up with a wacky premise and call it day. Rather, they stuffed the game full of details that show they comitted to the idea. This, in turn, takes Rocketbirds into all kinds of fascinating places, like a natural history museum that shows penguins as the final stage of bird evolution, or intraspecies bird racism that prevents the non-penguins from banding together to overthrow their penguin oppressors.
The writing is similarly fantastic. The dialogue falls somewhere between a loving homage to cheesy action flicks, and a witty send-up of the tropes those movies employ. Overall, it manages to be hilarious without being condescending or overly snarky towards its source material, and it makes the game more compelling because of it.
There are, of course, a few flaws. The controls, most notably, are a little awkward and imprecise; when you're running and shooting (that is to say, the vast majority of the game) this isn't so bad, but try timing your jumps just so, or pushing a box from one place to another, and you'll probably get a little frustrated by it. Additionally, the game's use of the Vita's accelerometer leaves a little to be desired; as neat as it is to see the background shift when you tilt the handheld one way or another, it also means that if you want to see the action head-on, you have to keep your Vita stuck in one position.
I should emphasize, however, that while these flaws exist, they're really fairly minor. They certainly didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of Rocketbirds and, I suspect, they won't hurt anyone else's enjoyment of it either. You'll forget about them pretty quickly, and you'll be left with the memory of a smart, funny inventive game long after you're done.