Sporting an interesting monochrome look, Bird Game guides you through three levels of the hunting ground that is nature. Wind is key to everything that moves, creating challenging obstacles of wildlife and plants.
While a gust of wind spins a flower like a windmill and everything gently sways as you dodge oncoming dragonflies to the backdrop of the string-driven serene music, there are early moments of placidity. The difficulty takes a step in a more challenging direction mid-way through, however, but the lack of focus and variety holds Bird Game+ back.
Tough to Swallow
It took me a while to realise there was a health bar across the bottom of the screen as it looked part of the border at a glance. There’s really no focus and no obvious goal while you’re in the game. Checkpoints replenish health and there’s no penalty for death beyond heading back to the checkpoint. It’s a straight A to B run and throughout the first level you may being asking why you’re bothering.
The flowing movement of flight feels right, with the shoulder buttons allowing nifty barrel rolls, Star Fox style. Aside from the directional movement there’s very little to learn. The tutorial section pits you against a rolling log, prompting you to hold the ‘Y’ button in order to spread your wings for a sharper turn, but the margin for error to avoid the log is small for players who have only just picked up the game. It’s infuriating to be shown a mechanic and being made to feel like you’re doing it wrong. A few collectibles used a guidance would have easily alleviated this early problem.
Collectibles are, well I’m not actually sure what they are but they’re there. There’s nothing to tally them up as you collect them and nothing to do with them during or after each run. They’re placed around levels but only occasionally used as means of directing the player, the rest of the time being seemingly randomly scattered, making them feel entirely redundant. Grabbing the collectibles presumably adds to your score but there’s no way to map your progress beyond the timer and checkpoints.
Hitting ZL/ZR enables motion control, which appear to make use of the JoyCon rather than the system itself (I generally use a Hori left JoyCon which is lacking in any of the usual sensors). These controls work well and are responsive, opening Bird Game+ up to the tiniest of curious gamers. That said, using the triggers for enabling motion control mid-game is a bizarre mapping choice at best.
A Sparrow to the Knee
There isn’t much to make the groundwork of the art style’s bold outlines flourish. The giant flowers and branches could have been used to give an overall sense of scale and awe to the environment, but the idea is never fully explored. Fixing the camera in place is likely a gameplay design choice, however a first-person or zoom in/out for the third person viewpoint could have resolved the nagging sense of the world around you being nothing more than a tiny narrow path. You’re a small bird but nothing seems relative in terms of comparably sized insects and animals; there’s a distinct lack of consistency and lack of ambition.
It’s fun to see a game that doesn’t rely on killing things but there’s no direct replacement for that element. There are rings to pass through that give a short speed boost, and doors you need to open by spinning an obtuse handle, but they feel entirely tacked on with no visual or, in many cases, design context. In sections where fish jump out of the water, tapping ‘A’ gobbles them up providing a much-needed speed boost but it’s still too slow. In something like Race The Sun there’s an innate sense of danger due to the speed involved, in on-rails shooters you’re, well shooting. In Bird Game you’re just being. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this design philosophy but the concept simply hasn’t been pushed far enough.
Crowly but Surely
This heavy emphasis on down time early on made for a creeping impatience that left me jittery, felt with the weight of a giant sequoia, especially in instances where I accidently quit the game. Yup, paused it, accidentally quit. You see, L is mapped to quit with no confirmatory yes/no option so it’s easy to hit when picking your Switch back up. A mild annoyance, though one that had to be mentioned.
While the game functions fine, with responsive controls and no slowdown in the busier sections, there’s an irritating single frame drop every few seconds which, once noticed, you can’t help but spot it every time. There’s also a complete pause prior to the boss sections loading in, which initially made me think the game had crashed.
With a lack of new ideas, a sombre pacing with no incentive and a redundant collectible element should spell the end of the road for our spinning aviator, as it mostly nosedives. That is, until you reach the boss battles.
The bosses have bags of character with their animated personalities giving more meaning to the outcome. Getting the boss patterns down is straightforward but it doesn’t make them any less challenging, offering tense and epic struggles. So much is the shift in smart design, such as the wind lines being the tell for which direction the enemy will come from, or with the lack of means of attack, using the environment to win the day, that it feels like a separate game to the levels before them. Wait until you see the frog king and his bombs. These great and memorable fights are clearly what the dev was storing their best ideas for.
In fact, the boss battles are so good that I have no issue recommending the game on the basis that you simply ‘get through’ the first level without expecting anything interesting. It wasn’t fun until I got to the first boss fight, then it was great. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough of those boss sections to hold the experience together, and with subsequent levels fluttering in the mediocre range, there’s little more to add. That said, you need only beat each level once to be able to select that level’s respective boss fight directly.
Overall Score: 6/10
I will play through this one with my daughter, I think. There’s certain a base appeal to the art direction that a younger audience may enjoy. The boss battles are worth the effort, so I’ll likely challenge them again. This is a bird game alright, minus the plus.
Format: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Price: £8.99 (UK eShop)
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Bryan Tabor
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 03/05/19
Review copy provided by publisher