Review: The King's Bird
The King's Bird is an interesting take on the platforming genre; you have the ability to “fly.” The world is beautiful and full of wonder and vibrant colors. The story opens with your father stopping you from enjoying your freedom and constricting you to the limits of his kingdom. Of course, as a rebellious child you break out by stealing the power to push through barriers and, well, fly.
Once you escape into the world it quickly becomes apparent there was a reason your father walled you, and seemingly everyone else, inside his protective barrier. There are pits, spikes, and evil trying to destroy you at every turn. Early on The King’s Bird lulls you into believing it is your standard platformer, mostly just running and jumping but it ramps the difficulty up quickly. Soon enough you are battling your way through running on ceilings, under platforms, and eventually flying. Flying might be too strong of a word “It’s falling with style,” in the famous exchange of Buzz Lightyear and Woody.
The gameplay is fast paced and fluid. It’s one of the fastest platformers I have played. Dive bombing through vast sections of spike filled pits and wall traps is exhilarating. At times it is also insanely frustrating, you just can’t win sometimes no matter how you react. At times it requires you to know the layout of what is ahead. This is honestly one of the biggest problems with a ton of platformers, it’s too much trial and error. Later in the game the checkpoints are far and few between making for extreme frustration (again same issue with lots of others). There are really only a handful of games that get this right where even on the first time through if you are fast you can still make it. Ori and the Blind Forest gets platforming, in my mind, right.
One of the coolest things is the “boost.” It allows you to cover ground quickly, go up walls, and run on the ceiling. In most games, the boost can only be used once and then you have to touch the ground to use it again. This “rule” doesn’t apply in The King's Bird, every time you touch another surface you can use it again. So, you might jet across the floor, then up a wall, then jump off of that wall and boost back down another tunnel and then jump again to hit the roof and run down it. It adds incredible speed to the platforming and combining that with the flying makes you feel like a peregrine falcon screaming through the skies. Just be careful with what direction your joystick is pointing or you will end up like a bird flying into a window.
It’s weird because I felt like The King's Bird was more like ICO than I could have ever expected. There is little direction and you have no idea if you are playing the story or just time trials. Even the intro doesn’t really give you a hint about what you have to do to progress the story. It took me a little while to orient myself and this might be something that turns people off. If you push through being lost though there is a great story to be had.
The King's Bird is told by showing rather than telling. No one speaks and there is just expressions and gestures. However, they execute this very well and the story is compelling. Again, I will bring up Ori and the Blind Forest and say that it executes it’s story in much the same way. Without ever hearing dialogue you feel for the characters and become attached to them. You worry when someone is in trouble or feel bad when they do. It’s interesting to see stories like this beginning to gain traction. Ori and Unravel are very good examples of this and The King's Bird holds its own.
The ancient architecture of The King's Bird is gracious, beautiful, and bright. My eyes were never bored; everything is bright and well designed. The layout of the world continued to sell the story and immerses you into the story. To me, the one big knock I have is the soundtrack. It’s the only thing that made me want to put the game down. There are a few tracks that just play on repeat and when you die a lot it wears on you. I know this is a minor gripe and kind of knit picky since I could just shut it off but I don’t want to play in a world of silence and grunts.
I really enjoyed my time with The King's Bird, it is fast paced, engaging, and puts enough of a twist making it feel fresh. The story and world are well thought out and unfold before you without an utterance. It’s no small feat to convey a gamut of emotions, beyond just sorrow and joy. Enjoy the world full of color, ancient architecture, and pokey things out to destroy you. I promise all of the pain is worth the payoff and if you like platformers, you will undoubtedly love The King's Bird as much as I did.