The land of Albatropolis is not graced with the sounds of birds chirping happily. Under the penguin regime, life for the feathery folks of this realm is grim. But there is hope. As the heroic one-bird army known as Hardboiled Chicken, you must fight your way deep into the penguin stronghold and eliminate their leaders, overthrowing the oppressive government once and for all. Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a mixture of 2D shooting and puzzle-solving with enough variety to hold your attention, but it doesn't make enough of its scrambled ingredients to do its unusual hero and humorous premise justice.
Hardboiled is the kind of avian supersoldier you might produce if you spliced chicken DNA with that of Rambo. He may be the only bird who's up to the task of defeating the penguins, but unfortunately, his stiff movement keeps him from being all that fun to control. The rigid controls rarely interfere with your progress, though, because the combat is so simple. Unlike in most 2D shooters, you don't actually see the bullets as they fly through the air. If an enemy is in your line of fire when you pull the trigger, he will get hit, the tremendous force of your bullets levitating him off of the ground as his blood splatters on the wall. The surprising juxtaposition of such violent imagery with anthropomorphic birds is grimly humorous at first. But soon the surprise wears off, and the gunplay is worn down by its own simplicity. Just point your gun at a bad guy and hold the button down until you see the burst of feathers that tells you that penguin has seen his last march. You eventually encounter shielded foes who can be hurt only from behind, but having to run or roll past an enemy before you can kill him doesn't do much to make the shooting more exciting.
It's a good thing, then, that the shooting doesn't have to stand on its own. It's interwoven with environmental puzzles you frequently need to solve in order to proceed. Many of these are simple puzzles that just require you to collect keycards, use elevators, and push boxes to certain spots so that you can reach high ledges. More interesting are those puzzles that require you to use brain bugs. These little critters can be tossed through tiny spaces Hardboiled himself may not be able to fit through, and let you take control of any enemy soldier unfortunate enough to get his head caught in the green gas the bug exudes. As the enemy soldier, you can do things like push buttons that open doors so that Hardboiled can advance, and you can use the element of surprise to your advantage, gunning down groups of penguin soldiers who think you're their friend before they have a chance to respond. Like the shooting, the puzzles are basic, but the game alternates between these elements so frequently that you rarely have time to get tired of one before you're back to doing the other.
The third and least frequent element of Rocketbirds is what Hardboiled likes to call "jetpaction." Occasionally he straps on a jetpack and takes to the skies to destroy penguin zeppelins or other flying machines. As he zooms through the air, this normally flightless bird leaves the stiffness of his ground movement behind, and for a little while, the simple freedom to zip across the screen in any direction is enjoyable in and of itself. Because you can actually attempt to avoid enemy fire in the air, the combat here is a bit more exciting than the shooting you engage in while on your feet. It sometimes requires some fancy flying to shake off homing missiles (or to lead them into a crash course with a bad guy), and this evasive element helps to make these brief interludes a pleasant change from the action that makes up the majority of the game.
Rocketbirds doesn't do much traditional storytelling. A few scenes establish the characters of Putzki, the "fearless leader" of the penguins, and his dual-Uzi-wielding enforcer, Brno. But most cinematics in the game are wordless scenes set to songs by the rock band New World Revolution. There's not much of a plot here, but these musical scenes effectively use imagery to illuminate Hardboiled's troubled past and to examine the emotional toll of the war. The characters are visually distinctive; you've never seen a gun-toting chicken supersoldier who looks quite like Hardboiled. And the environments are pleasantly varied. You make your way through drab bunkers, sunny city streets, lavish museums, and other locales. Propaganda posters, humorous signs, and other details give these places personality, but in a few spots it's difficult to distinguish the background from the foreground, and you may leap for a ledge that isn't actually a ledge.
In addition to the single-player adventure, Rocketbirds includes a two-player local cooperative mode. Here, each player chooses from an assortment of budgies that specialize in various weapons; Chief uses a light machine gun, for instance, while Mutt employs a shotgun. Unlike Hardboiled, who can switch among any of the weapons he collects, these budgies are stuck with their weapon of choice. The environments are the same ones that show up in the single-player game, but the level design is changed to create situations that require you and your partner to work together to advance. Most commonly, this means that one budgie must hop on the other budgie's shoulders so that the duo can get to otherwise out-of-reach places. The budgies control as stiffly as Hardboiled does, and although the joy of camaraderie makes collaborating to advance pleasant, two of the most interesting aspects of the single-player game are absent. Without brain bug puzzles and jetpack sequences to mix up the rigid movement and simple shooting, the gameplay wears thin more quickly in co-op.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken combines simple action and simple puzzles, and the result is a simple game. It changes up its various elements frequently enough to remain an entertaining diversion, but it never becomes more than that. And although the combination of cartoon birds and violent imagery is shocking and funny at first, it's not enough to sustain the game, even for its roughly five-hour running time. Your $11.99 can get you into much more memorable battles than this one.