STAFF REVIEW of King’s Bird, The (Xbox One)

Monday, March 18, 2019.
by Royce Dean

King’s Bird, The Box art I don’t travel much. It’s not that I hate it, it's just that I like it less than being at home. There's also the cost to consider because unless you’re traveling to the next city over or you don't mind sitting statue-still while driving for 18-hours a day and making frequent stops because everybody is on a different pee schedule, you’ll probably be flying... which isn't cheap. Even if it wasn’t just a matter of cost, I don't handle being in the air well. It's just not a natural habitat for a critter without wings. My brain seems to be wired to detect even the slightest change in altitude, which summons the swirling tendrils of vertigo to grip my weakened form. I once vomited into a guava tree from a zip-line in Hawaii. Yay! If ever my presence is needed on a plane, just be advised that i'm the kind of person that needs the aisle seat, several bags, and a modicum of patience from those around me because no, the gurgling sounds won't stop. Thankfully we live in a world where flying experiences can be done safely from home and behind closed doors where the only one to hear my gurgling is the cat.

Simply put, The King’s Bird is a platforming game. But beyond simplest terms, this is no Super Mario Brothers. Yes, the goal of each level is to make it to the end, but it's how that's done that sets The Kings Bird apart from nearly every other platforming game I've played to date. The Kings Bird is a game all about physics, reaction time, and quite literally flying... or more accurately, gliding. The only way you’ll find success is with momentum, precision and sometimes luck. Exactly like grocery shopping on a Sunday.

Is it weird to describe a game as elegant? Probably. Am I going at anyways? Of course I am. The King’s Bird is the ballroom dancing of platforming. It looks outwardly simple because of how few actions appear to happening on screen, but underneath, the optics are layers of subtlety. To an observer you look as though you are just gliding your way through a course, but you the player know you’re dashing, floating, jumping (with different increments of power) and timing each movement perfectly. Admittedly it took me some time to get a hang of the basic controls, but once it clicked, I soared. The trick was, if you’ll excuse the crude comparison, keeping the pedal to the metal.

Of course directional movement is handled with the left thumb-stick, but that alone will do you no good. Keeping your right trigger depressed will have the player character dash when they touch a new surface, and keeping your left trigger depressed lets you glide at will while touching no surfaces at all... be careful though, you can only glide for so long before running out of steam. By holding these two down almost perpetually, you will get up to the speed you need to find success in most cases with it being more tactically appropriate to release those buttons when you don’t need the boost than to press one when you do. Your other primary tool for navigation is jumping. You have both a normal jump and a powerful jump which you can do by press both the jump and dash buttons simultaneously.

Levels are riddled with walls made entirely of spikes which will end you on contact, and are your primary roadblock in just about every situation. Fortunately there are lanterns peppered throughout the world that serve as checkpoints, and being as tricky as some of these segments are, getting to a lantern feels as good as being able to breathe through your nose again after a long cold. The difficulty level in The King’s Bird has managed to strike a perfect balance between challenging the player and their mastery over the controls while not being too overly easy or hard. Each level seemed to push me to try something bold and really think about the actions I was taking. Many times I would have to repeat a segment over and over and over until I got it just right. These especially tricky maneuvers were always met with another checkpoint meaning that your hard work was rewarded by never having to do it again... a method students have been using to tackle public school tests for decades.

There is some measure of replayability in The King’s Bird. Each level is timed so as to encourage players to come back and beat their best scores. Some people will undoubtedly respond to the timer correctly and do just that. While many others will see the timer, panic and forget how to play the game entirely. I’m guilty of the second. Once I put the timer out of my mind and the feeling in my thumbs returned, I was able to play the game as it should be. Additionally, as you play you’ll find little sprite looking things scattered about in inconvenient, but always reachable places. It was rare that I would get each of these fairies on the first go through of a level, requiring that I go back again. Most of the time, and this is my only major gripe about the game, is that these collectible pixies can be really hard to see on the backdrops of the levels, with some of them more clearly visible only once you’ve moved to look at them from a different vantage point.

What will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody is my favorite part of the game; the artwork. Each time I call a game’s artwork my favorite component it's no less true, but The Kings Bird has managed to worm itself into my mind like a parasite hijacking my memories and feelings and transformed itself into the best looking game it could be in accordance with my tastes. Yup, it was all for me... back off suckers! It also forced me to neglect all of my household chores which I would totally do with enthusiasm any other day. But the point is that The Kings Bird looks amazing. The game looks like a layered painting with the colors furthest back being the brightest and getting darker the more you move towards the foreground. This dark on light contrast makes every environment and every frame look striking and impactful. The utter lack of detail on the foreground’s pitch surface also adds an element of mystery because you never get to see the player character (or anything else really) beyond its silhouette.

The music in The Kings Bird has a lot to stand up to if you’re to take the rest of the game as a benchmark. Thankfully it too stands on its own. The fast paced nature of level-navigation demands fast paced music. Each of the tracks featured in The King’s Bird is upbeat and cheery, and even more importantly, doesn't get tiresome. One of my primary pet peeves in gaming is poor music. More specifically, poor music loops. I'm sure each of us knows all too well what it's like being unsure how to pass an obstacle and being forced to listen to the same thing ad nauseum to the point that you either want to mute the screen or throw the whole TV out the window. There is none of that here. The King's Bird is self aware enough of the experience it offers and features tunes that match the game so you aren't berated by the same looping track for an excess amount of time. Music aside, there are several sequences where characters communicate with one another, but instead of voice lines they “talk” in a sort of “sing-song-y” kind of way. It felt a little awkward and out of place at first, but I grew accustomed to it and isn't so distracting that it warrants demerits.

I love it when a game that looks interesting is also fun, and that's exactly what happened here. It lured me in with its visuals, and then latched onto me with a platforming experience that I had never seen or felt before. Needless to say I had fun... like, a surprising amount of fun. While my trigger fingers did get a little sore to the point that I had to take frequent breaks, each level had a design different enough that I felt engaged the whole way through. The Kings Bird is a rare kind of game that combines fast-paced gameplay with thoughtful movement and rewards the player with a proper feeling of accomplishment. Well done Serenity Forge. I look forward to seeing what else you bring to the gaming world in the future.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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