Rocketbirds 2: Evolution Preview

Cross Contra with scrolling Duke Nukem, but with birds.

I got to see Rocketbirds 2: Evolution, along with French current-gen multi-platform party-title WonderShot), at a recent preview event in San Francisco, at the unlikely morning hour of 9AM, which is about an hour before any game preview appointment I've ever had. Either marketing firms or game journalists, or probably both, have decided that getting up in the morning is generally less than optimal. I'm glad I did, though. Rocketbirds 2 was a blast to play and the franchise is developing well.

Ratloop Asia's Rocketbirds 2: Evolution isn't exactly busting down the door with a lot of sophistication in its narrative, but that's not what it's going for. The game opens with the first game's Hardboiled Chicken discovering that his nemesis, the totalitarian Penguin ruler Putzki, is still alive when a newspaper takes the hero to task for not ending the villain, which causes him to burst into action. It's characteristic of the humor of the game, as the gameplay section opens with a pigeon guardsman calling his significant other on a cellphone that he's gotten through his new employment, explaining how much better his life is now that he's employed, only to be immediately ventilated by the Hardboiled Chicken.

Evolution's gameplay is largely the same as its predecessor's, aping Contra-style aiming with twin-stick firing and moving controls, making for gameplay that's about raining bullets on your enemies from any direction as you move through the 2.5D landscape in side-scrolling shooter fashion. Visually it's similar to the original game, though it drops the cartoon hand-drawn cel look of the original for a more papercraft look to the characters and background (as if the whole game is a series of dioramas).

Mutliplayer this time round keeps the budgies, the half-sized birds with their own automatic firearms, making for a frenetic but fun experience for up to four players firing continuous streams of bullets at two-dimensional enemy soldiers. In this go-around they get their own separate narrative through Rescue Mode, where you have to infiltrate the enemy compound and rescue a hostage.

For all that, I love the increased complexity and character diversity of the modern gaming landscape; it is nice on occasion to play a throwback to the era where everything on screen either explodes in flames or blood. Evolution does this, and plants its tongue firmly in its cheek while doing so, aware of the flimsiness of its narrative, and letting its characters comment on it, and the invincibility of the heroes.

Rocketbirds 2: Evolution has six different chapters in its campaign and an estimated 14-16 hours of gameplay with a planned price somewhere in the $20 range, due out at the end of first quarter of 2016 for PS VIta and PS4, with cross-save support between devices. While I only got hands-on with the budgie multiplayer, it was a lot of fun to zip around with miniature bird-buddies and make the different bird enemies erupt into fountains of blood. The PR rep mentioned that the blood could be turned off, but then I asked him, "Why would you?" We then stared at each other, and grinned.