So, what have we here then? Well, The Kings Bird is what is known as a momentum platfomer, I guess the only way I could describe this game is, it’s like the moments in Super Mario Bros 3 (raccoon Tail) or Super Mario World (cape) basically the bits where you fly, using momentum to make you fly higher and further to find all those secrets. But unfortunately, The Kings Bird doesn’t have the charm or the enjoyment of the aforementioned games.
The game starts in a beautifully rendered 2D village. The visuals are quite lovely reminiscent of those great Olly Moss works of art. The village, however, is sealed in a magical bubble and the only way out it seems is the power of flight. As you navigate your way around the village you’ll get to see murals telling the story thus far. It also serves as a training level with small signs dotted around letting you know the controls and the mechanics. The first thing I noticed, however, is it’s not always clear what the signs are trying to tell you. For example, an illustration of down, sideways and up tell me little of what I need to do no matter how many times I inputted the instructions, I fell into a pit of nasty looking spikes. It was only with trial and error with the various buttons on The Switch that I eventually got to grips with the controls.
When you do get to grips with the momentum physics it feels incredible, and your head fills with thoughts of an adventure that takes flying on a 2d plane to a new level. You conjure up images of clever puzzles and effortless flight as you head deeper into the game. Unfortunately, The Kings Bird is not so romantic. Although the controls are tight and the physics are pretty incredible, its a little hit and miss as to when they work. One of the problems is momentum itself, as you have to push in a direction to fly off a platform, as soon as you leave terra firma, you’re kind of halfway through the loop the loop just because you’re naturally holding the thumbtack in a specific direction. So half the time you are either correcting yourself mid-flight, dying and retrying or working out how to jump off a platform without using the thumbstick. Also, it could also be me being crap, but it happened too often to be down to my skill level.
But that’s not the major gripe I have. One of the skills you have Is the ability to ‘float’ up walls and across ceilings for a short time. This, in theory, is meant to allow you to get to those hard reach places, and of Course progress through the levels. The thing is that the game doesn’t really tell you how the mechanic works. I know I have to press a button and a direction on the thumbstick but sometimes it worked some times it didn’t. Most of the time I found I had to jump to a surface before inputting the key and stick movement. But that also didn’t work 100% either so for the most part you just end up jumping at walls and ceilings hammering the button and waggling the stick in the hope you’ll reach your destination. It’s very clumsy which sucks considering how good the controls feel on the odd occasion that they work as intended.
The deeper you get into the game the more apparent these shortcomings are. Glide times become shorter or spikes pits become longer and anything less than perfection will see you ultimately plunge to your doom. Granted levels are supposed get more challenging but, in The Kings Bird, they start to feel unfair due to the iffy mechanics. For a game that is based around free-flowing flying physics, the actual path and solutions to the levels are very linear, quite specific in fact. Good news is that respawns are near instantaneous so you can literally try and try again within seconds. Good because you will be dying a lot.
The game doesn’t help you out much either as there are a few technical issues with frame rate dips, a surprise given the basic nature of the graphics and there is no menu section to review controls so if you miss one of the minute murals that describe a certain move you can’t go into the menus and double check the controls, neither can you go back to the tutorial level to hone your skills. At least not that I could see anyway.
The Kings Bird is perhaps one of those games suited to gamers who love speedruns, where twitch platforming comes second nature and has the patience to really stick with the game. I enjoyed the first few levels, but the shortcomings of the controls and the haphazard nature of if they work or not kind of distracted me from what is an interesting and challenging game to play. Perhaps I need to just get better and these types of games, but having played games for 27 odd years I like to think I have the skills necessary to at least get to grips with the most challenging of games. As it stands The Kings Bird is hard to recommend to the casual gamer, but speedrunners will probably get the most out of this if they can get to grips with the somewhat broken mechanics.
The Kings Bird is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC/Steam
Developer: Serenity Forge
Publisher: Graffiti Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a copy of the game from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information
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