Platforming may well be the purest form of gaming there is to engage in, offering an addictive level of repetition that we have all grown up on.
From the early days of Manic Miner, through to Mario, to Sonic, to Crash and eventually to Super Meat Boy, no matter what the platformer, it requires the quickest of reflexes, the memory of an elephant and a brain sharpness that allows you to be thinking five moves in advance.
To hold its head up with the others, The King’s Bird is a platformer that brings a heady mix of high octane gaming and a level of difficulty that can be very challenging. But does it keep you wanting to go back for more?
The King’s Bird follows the story of a young girl in a magical and beautiful 2D world. This story has no huge narrative to speak of and the telling of it is completely wordless. Instead, as you progress, murals on the wall depict an epic story involving magic and monsters. A mysterious cloaked figure appears able to penetrate the cage of the city with a force field, and you communicate with this individual by using a selection of musical notes; a lovely and, quite frankly, fascinating idea by the developers. From there on out you are found traveling across five worlds with numerous levels on each, attempting to work out the secrets of this kingdom.
The mechanics found in The King’s Bird are simple to pick up at first, but it seems to take an age to master them, and even now I feel I’m just about picking it up still. It’s all about rolling with the momentum of the gameplay, which reminds me quite a bit of Super Meat Boy. You run along and can jump of course, which means your character can jump off walls very quickly, traversing across the levels. Then you can also slide with a touch of a button which makes her go super fast, allowing the action of flight/gliding for a small amount of time. The amount of time you have to do these skills are all done in relation to the momentum gained and how successfully you’ve interacted with the level and walls around you.
As you may expect, each level gets harder and harder as there are obstacles including huge chasms to fall into or spiked walls that need to be navigated past, which means you’ll soon be found relying on split-second timing and a whole lot of luck. The checkpoints – little street lamps – are dotted generously around the levels and you will find yourself yelping with joy as you travel to the next one after a hard section. There are moments when you will get stuck for centuries on a section, somehow either getting better at working out the route, and embracing the momentum, or, like me, finding that you just manage to fluke your way out. There is also an auto assist mode that can be tempting to use when you’ve died for the millionth time that hour. Here you can make yourself invincible, skip checkpoints and make the flying/gliding longer. But using this does negate the whole point of The King’s Bird and ruins the idea behind this very skillful platformer that needs to be mastered. But hey, who am I to judge?
The gameplay is thrilling at times and nothing short of brilliantly conceived. But as the difficulty gets harder and the gameplay fails to change too much, it does start to test the patience of even the hardcore of gamers. For those nutcases among you, the difficulty spikes will be enjoyed, whilst there are little birds to collect in the levels as well, enabling that utterly perfect score and seeing you grab some hard to achieve achievements as well.
It is in the looks, design and visual tone of The King’s Bird on Xbox One where the heart of the game lies. There is some superb use of colour and shading in the 2D design that really melts your heart and creates a magical place for you to jump and fly around in. The little cutscenes are short, but do a nice job of embellishing a story without any words. The soundtrack is equally as smart, what with its dramatic flourishes and folkie melody. But when you’re stuck on a level for an age, each tune begins to grate and you’ll soon be reaching for the volume button.
To conclude and The King’s Bird has a brilliant world design and wonderful aesthetic throughout. The colours are a standout and the developers really do manage to take you to another place, one that has reminded me of that taken in with Journey. The gameplay is really unique and feels brilliant as the levels whizz by in a series of jumps, flips, and glides. But when you get stuck and then stuck again and then stuck even more, it’s only a matter of time before you will be looking to switch off your console for a five-minute break and a quick head-bang on the wall.
I wanted a bit more variation in the gameplay, but overall there is no denying that The King’s Bird is a solid platformer in a beautiful world.