The King’s Bird Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Serenity Forge

Publisher: Graffiti Games

Release Date: February 12th 2019

Price as of Article: $19.99, £17.99

Game code provided by Graffiti Games

Game Size: 5.2 GB

Story

The game opens with a young child having a dream about flying as far away as its wings can take it, only to soon face a wall of energy that slowly shrinks in on it, until it implodes. The child then wakes up in its home in a peaceful village, that although peaceful, seems to be cut off completely from everything by being trapped in a giant bird cage of white energy.

Traversing to the very edge of the wall, trying all it might, the child accepts that breaking through is just not possible. Just then, a mysterious man drops through the sky and lands on the opposite site, passing through the cage with no effort. Mystified by the event, the child then takes pursuit of the man, perhaps eyeing a chance to acquire his power for itself and finally breaking free of its open prison?

It then isn’t long before the child follows the flying man into a sort of temple, where, upon getting in contact with a strange source of light, the child is bestowed a strange white scarf, granting it the same power of flight as the man from before. Realizing what has transpired, the man quickly returns to see the source gone, and in panic, the child flees the scene, jumping from the nearest window, embracing its new aerial art. Gracefully the child flies towards the other site of the caged prison, and effortlessly flies through.

Now, finally being free of its invisible chains, the child escapes into a nearby forest, and it is now the game truly begins.

Gameplay

As described above, you begin the game in a lush forest, traversing the woods and getting to know the controls until you eventually reach your first hub. In this hub, you find a series of portals leading to these sort of mini-hubs where four additional portals are located, that then lead you to the game’s pocket sized levels. After having cleared all four, you will then want to return to the main hub where the next mini-hub portal will have opened, and another four levels await you. When all levels in the hub have been beat, a portal opens in the middle of it, leading you to the Owl Temple that then grants you a boost to your powers, sending you on ahead to the next hub afterwards.

To be honest, I was a bit bumped that the game went for this approach to gameplay, as I had hoped for a more open world akin to aforementioned Limbo or Teslagrad. That said, sectioning the game off into small Super Meat Boy portions like this, also considering you are likely gonna die alot, makes it so you are never sent far back upon failure, and always hear yourself say ”just once more”.

The King's Bird Screenshot

The controls are very simple but tough to master, at least at first glance. The levels fundamentally consist of slopes and crevasses, and you then have three methods of movement: A makes you jump, ZR makes you dash, and ZL lets you soar according to your momentum. And that is the keyword – momentum. You are a free bird now, and your movement is thus entirely momentum based, you then need to use the stages’ aforementioned slopy and curvy nature to your advantage to build up speed in order to make it through some of the stages’ trickier passages and obstacles.

Dashing is of course a great way to build up speed, especially dashing into a wall and running along it, and then following up with a glide. You can even dash along a ceiling for a brief time, given you have the momentum for it, and once you have mastered this alteration between ZL and ZR, you will eventually find yourself soaring effortlessly through the levels. It is a very unique and, if I should describe it in one word: elegant gameplay style.

Your momentum, of course, also builds up when falling, so if you need to cross a large gap, you can sometimes get away with plunging yourself into the endless darkness, and then saving yourself last second with a glide, like a phoenix rising anew.

I won’t lie, some of the stages gave me some serious trouble and had me dying and re-trying over and over again, had it not been for the very generous checkpoints I would have likely quit long ago. But, on the contrary, in those levels where you really get your momentum going, effortlessly soaring through the sky and dashing from platformer to platform, nothing is more satisfying. The game is hard at times but fair, and the controls, while certainly unique, are simple and intuitive once you get a hang of them, and once I did, I could hardly keep myself from playing. But hey, review doesn’t write itself, am I right?

The King's Bird Screenshot 2

Throughout every single stage, you will also come across these small birds that act as collectibles. Some of them are right along your path, ripe for the picking, while others demand you go a bit out of your way. I am a completionist (when I want to), so I naturally had to collect all the birds in every stage, but I didn’t really notice if doing so did anything. Heck, the portal to the level doesn’t even get a special icon on it or anything. Maybe I have been spoiled by Mario. So as far as I can tell, they do nothing, but hey, at least they add to the replay value.

Here’s a little tip for ya, you will lose a bird you have collected in between checkpoints, so if you collect one right after a checkpoint, go back and touch the checkpoint again. It won’t in any way indicate or acknowledge that you have done so, but it works, and the bird will be with you still even if you die before reaching the next checkpoint. Yes, the birds you collect follow you, and I gotta say, it’s very satisfying seeing 15-20 little birds flocking around you.

A little something that did annoy me though, is that once you enter the exit portal to a level, your only option is to hit Y to get teleported back to the hub. Why give me the choice if I really have none at all? What if I touched the portal by accident but still had a bird I missed and wanted to go back and collected? Guess I gotta go back in and replay the whole level, huh?

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Audio

The music fits the idylic backgrounds exceptionally well, in that it is peaceful, yet upbeat, getting your heart racing for some high-octane platforming. One gripe I do have, is that as far as I noticed, every hub world, and its subsequent levels, only have one track playing the entire time. Granted you don’t always focus on the music and thus don’t always notice, but once it occured to me that the same track had been playing for at least the last 1½ hours, I regretted that the soundtrack wasn’t more varied.

Again, what is here fits the game and its themes and aesthetics very well, but there just isn’t enough variety.

Visuals & Performance

Ever since Limbo made the ”silhoutte”-style popular, more and more games have incorporated or even copied its style and visuals, every game trying to add its own creative spin to the form. Where Limbo incorporated a completely black/white artstyle though, The King’s Bird does things a bit different, in that the child is completely black and featureless, aside from a wild hairdo I wish I had, along with all the platforms you are gonna traverse. The backgrounds on the other hand, are lush and colourful, with multiple layers to them.

The King's Bird Screenshot 3

When occassionally standing still and giving yourself time to take in the game’s breathtaking artstyle, you really feel that these backgrounds, without words, have their own stories to tell, about the outside world that the birdcage people have been hiding from. It actually reminds me alot of another hidden gem, Housemarque’s Outland, that also featured a silhuette foreground, with a colourful background adding massively to the atmosphere. I’d certainly like to believe that the people at Serenity Forge drew some inspiration from this.

That said, The King’s Bird is neither visually nor gameplay-wise a very demanding game, and thus I didn’t have any performance problems at all. Then again, these types of games rarely do.

Value

At £17.99/19.99, with the sheer amount of adrenaline-fueled stages, I’d say that The King’s Bird more than warrants its pricetag. The lack of variety in music and some minor nitpicks aside, I had a ton of fun with this challenging and very different take on the platforming genre. Artistically, it is simple and gorgeous, a great example that less is more, and again, once you get a hang of the controls and really get going, you’ll be hard pressed to put the controller down again. The birds also, although seemingly useless, do add a lot of replay value.

If you are iffy about this one, perhaps grab it on a sale, in which case I heavily recommend it, but even at its full price I would definitely urge to give it a shot and see where the wind takes you.

Pros

P

Gorgeous visuals

P

Fun seemless controls

P

Easy to pick up, hard to master

Cons

P

Music lacks variety