It’s a bit of a challenge to describe how I feel about Bird Game. It seems at once heavily influenced by many games yet novel. Simultaneously relaxing and challenging. Playful, yet serious. Thoughtful, but occasionally, quite flawed. The way it finds a balance in its contrasting elements is so artful that it hurts to be disappointed by its shortcomings.
Bird Game’s trailer and store description literally bill the game as a “zen-like” experience. Aesthetically, it fulfills this promise with a relaxing track for each of the three levels, a soothing black and white hand drawn rendering technique, and extremely charming baddies. This subverted my expectations in the best way because mechanically, Bird Game is as challenging an arcade-like experience as Panzer Dragoon; a game that appears to be an inspiration.
Bird Game differs from Panzer Dragoon or Rez in that it offers minimal offensive options (these feel like they’re intended to be surprising so I won’t say much more about them). Throughout any given level, you are piloting the titular bird spending most of your time avoiding waves of bugs and vegetation, each with their own flight pattern: sprouting stalks, rolling logs, homing dragonflies, bouncing spiders. It’s always fun to encounter some new enemy and see how it will dance into your flight path.
Just as I started to finish the first of these levels, Bird Game took me by surprise again by pitting me into a boss fight against a duo of large bugs. The mechanical transition was mirrored musically: going from serene piano to playful drums and horns that gave me a David Wise (of Donkey Kong Country fame) vibe. Having no offensive options, I assumed I would simply have to withstand their waves of attack. Once I saw them repeating their patterns, I realized that I could encourage this pair of baddies to hurt themselves. This epiphany being the third time I was surprised by a 3-dollar gem, I started to wonder what’s the catch.
Unfortunately, this is also where Bird Game started to show its seams a bit. The boss fight began to drag once I got good enough to reduce them to their last bit of life. Getting to this point requires a few minutes of play. Unlike other games, this process can’t be sped up by getting better. You still have to pass through numerous attack phases before you are able to do damage to your foe. Couple this with a significant jump in difficulty when a boss is low in life and you could easily spend 25 minutes on 5 good attempts. The boss fights in the subsequent levels suffered from the same issue. Furthermore, I encountered a confounding glitch on the final boss. Pausing could either cause an enemy to disappear or cause the camera to lose sight of my bird altogether.
Without these shortcomings, I feel the $2.99 is far too low. In fact, it’s still under-priced. Bird Game is a skillful marriage of its diverse influences. It is a game where the Nintendo-like commitment to fun, the arcade challenge, and the endearing and low-poly wildlife make it feel like it would be at home on the Nintendo 64. If you’re looking for a surprise – consider Bird Game.
Score: 4 out 5 (Recommended)
Bird Game was developed by Bryan Tabor, with music and sounds by Harm-Jan Wiechers. It is available on Steam for $2.99.