The King’s Bird is a tough nut to crack. It’s a game in which you want to stop playing when the pad is in your hands, yet it’s also a game you want to play when you’ve quit it for the umpteenth time. Whilst there’s moments of sheer brilliance and tranquility to be found within, there’s equally as many occasions in which you’ll find yourselves staring at the screen in protest and disbelief. Very rarely do I put down a game and admit defeat, though, due not only to its harsh difficulty, but its lack of polish and refinement, this did beat me.
Starting out, the game warmly welcomes you to its world. Players take on the role of a young child, in which the only text throughout the entire game relays to you that this child is seemingly dreaming. In said dream, the child is soaring through the air until a circular cage of light confines his movement, ultimately entrapping him. Once the child wakes up, the game serves you a brief yet informative tutorial, teaching you the basics of general traversal. It’s immediately clear that the gameplay has quite a clean and fluid feel to it all.
You’ll maneuver around your village as you follow signposts that aid you on your way, giving you a firm grasp of the game’s handling in the process. The game seems to take place in a very specific culture, one that appears to represent the Mayans – or something very close. Nevertheless, the overarching story plays on elements such as oppression and restraint, which naturally goes in direct contrast with the boy’s dreams and desires. This is further evident by the fact that the boy’s village appears to be encased in the cage from his dreams.
Upon trying to interact with the cage, a large angelic-like being appears and demands that the boy leaves. Though, like any normal adolescent would do, the boy tails the being to a nearby alter, and gains the ability to escape his confining village. Soon after, the boy stumbles upon a temple that bestows him with magical abilities. This temple serves as your main hub throughout. What ensues from here on out is a barrage of tricky platform-based levels. Levels that will quite literally have you sweating blood and pulling out your hair.
The hub is broken down into several sections, with each section housing a collection of levels that you can take to in any order you see fit. Each section tends to lean upon a theme of some sort; a forest kingdom, a lake kingdom, a sky kingdom, and so forth. The King’s Bird has a very outlandish and fantastical vibe to it all, which is toyed with remarkably well from the get-go. There’s no enemies present, well, not if you’re not counting brambles – which will most likely take your life when gravity, water, and death-drops, give you a small rest.
The King’s Bird is a platformer that requires a great deal of precision, perseverance, and momentum. If you were to make it from one end of each level to the other without dying (good luck with that), they would typically last less than a few minutes per-whack. However, if, like me, you fail over and over again, you’ll likely spend the best part of an hour just clearing a single section. Like I said, the temple is your hub, and throughout the temple are several portals that lead you to a cluster of levels. You’ll need to beat the majority of them.
I say this because in order to progress to the next area of the temple, you’ll need to have nuked however many levels are required to dive further in. This is all neatly laid out via the temple’s monument interface, making it fairly easy to understand. The crux of play sees you making your way from one end of the level to the other, overcoming a wide range of deviously crafted obstacles that sit in your way. The controls are quite easy to get to grips with, though I do take issue with their responsiveness. I’ll get to that in a moment of two.
Movement is achieved through the left stick, with a jump assigned to the A button. There’s a small boost that you can utilize through the use of RT, and outside of that, you can cling onto ceilings via LT. The game does a good job at mixing these functions together. For instance, you can wall climb using your boost, or, gain a fairly moderate long jump through holding RT and pressing the A button. You can also glide early on, which much like everything noted so far, will frequently be put to the test throughout the adventure at hand.
With this being a momentum-based platformer, you can safely assume that death will greet you often. With that being said, accuracy is your greatest ally here. The game’s levels, although far from lengthy, are served as a cluster of dangers. You’ll need to use the above functions to overcome them. I cant quite say that the game has a fair difficulty curve. In fact, the game’s difficulty is all over the place. Several times did I find myself stuck on a level for what felt like an eternity, only to have a very simple one follow suit. Rinse, and repeat.
I guess that it feeds you a sense of false security in one way, but in truth, these wildly fluctuating difficulties only hurts the game’s pace. Nevertheless, you’ll always begin at a starting point, with the ending point typically slapped well out of sight. Narrow platforms, large drops, deadly terrain, and other like-minded obstacles will sit between you and your goal. The game plays at its absolute best when you’re soaring through a level with little but a few commands to call upon, however, before long, you’ll be required to do much more.
I found a lot to like about The King’s Bird during the former. There’s something oddly gracious and gratifying about it when you’re gliding and moving through the levels with such delicacy and fluidity. It’s moment like this that helps the game to shine. The problem, however, is that these moments are short lived. The game is jam-packed with levels that require far too much multitasking in regards to the controls, so much so that most of your deaths will likely be down to hitting the wrong button in a blind panic, over and over again.
Ori and the Blind Forest, although a much different game, excels as a platformer because it’s never taxing, yet still remains very challenging. The game’s balance is second to none, constantly forcing you to adjust to a growing variety of new mechanics. The King’s Bird should have taken a leaf out of that book, rather than heavily relying on several mixtures of its base mechanics. The end result only makes for very convoluted handling, which is never a good thing when a platformer game is concerned. This leads me back to its responsiveness.
The boy, as outlined above, has the ability to wall climb. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to jump to a wall and press RT. You’ll oftentimes find yourselves doing this several times in each level. The issue I have is that when you’re even slightly putting pressure on the left stick, the boy will plunge or dive away from the wall, rather than scale it. I’m sure you can picture the frustration that occurs when most wall climbing is done following a glide or jump, both of which require that you move the left stick in the correct, desired direction.
I wont be too hard on the game on this front, because I did find myself quickly adjusting how fast I released pressure on the left stick to climb, but all the same, the deaths that occurred felt unwarranted and cheap. Mercifully, the game sports a very generous checkpoint system. These are served as lampposts that will ignite when you move close to them, and they’re usually scattered all over the place, ensuring that your respawn is never to far from your point of death. There’s also some options to toggle in the settings to alleviate difficulty.
This is known as ‘assist mode’ and allows you to toggle the likes of; invulnerability, extra hits to die, checkpoint skipping, and many more. I found myself using quite a few of these to get through, and yes, I felt dirty. In regards to the game’s audio and visual design, The King’s Bird gets a big thumbs up from me. The game’s soundtrack is wonderfully mellow and never becomes tiresome. This sits very well with the game’s distinct aesthetics, pushing forward a mashup of vibrancy and sharp designs throughout its well detailed and diverse locations.
The King’s Bird is an utterly challenging platformer that’s perhaps, oftentimes, more frustrating than it needs to be. Further hindrance is found in its slightly unresponsive handling, together with its wildly fluctuating difficulty curve. That being said, if you can muster the perseverance and precision to see it through, you’ll find a pleasant, warm, and somewhat endearing adventure buried underneath its convolution.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.