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I’m playing through all of the finalists for this year’s Seumas McNally Grand Prize in the Independent Games Festival (the ones that have been released to the public, anyway), and maybe writing about some of them, when I feel like it. Here’s one of those times.

What it is:

Rocketbirds: Revolution! is a browser-based sidescroller with very high production values, considering the platform (see video above). You play as Hardboiled Chicken, the self-styled “Cock of War,” a grizzled, fearless piece of poultry dressed like a biker and armed to the teeth. If chickens have teeth. And even if they don’t, as a matter of fact. Gameplay consists of platforming, shooting bad guys (many of whom are clones of yourself, for story purposes, and also perhaps for budgetary purposes), and solving rudimentary puzzles. You don’t have to pay to play the first “episode,” but the rest of the game, nine “episodes” in all, costs about $10. Paying doesn’t buy you a download, though, just a login. There is a downloadable client that allows you to play at fullscreen, but it’s just a skin for the remotely-hosted Flash app. You still have to be online to play.

What I liked:

Visually, the experience is seductive: confident and attractive and nice. The juxtaposition of the eurocartoony (Trondheim-like, really) characters and the gritty “realistic” backgrounds, in particular, works very well. The stages have been put together in interesting ways. I had fun solving the puzzles (though I must admit they were all pretty easy, at least in the first episode). So, yeah. I enjoyed the sense of walking around and adventuring in this world while I was there. The controls are responsive and completely intuitive, rare for a Flash game, possibly because they are tutorialized to you in-game at exactly the moments you need to learn them, just like in a triple-A console game. And possibly because they don’t make any use of the mouse (Flash games that require a mouse are a pain in the ass, or at least in the fingers, to those of us who spend most of our time on laptops with trackpads). Even the cutscenes are fun to watch and professionally put together, except for quite a bit of less-than-awesome voice acting, but what can you do? You can do nothing, that’s what you can do about voice acting in indie games. It was not as terrible as it could have been, by a long shot. The character designs, especially the main character, really pulled me in. Overall, Rocketbirds: Revolution! is a sleek and impressive package.

Problems with it:

I expected an award-nominated indie game at this level to have gameplay concepts I’d never seen before. This isn’t that kind of game. Rocketbirds: Revolution! is more about serving up polish and shine on a shoestring, and in a usually-clunky browser environment, than about pushing the subtle art of game design forward on any conceptual level. It’s more Astro City than Asterios Polyp, I guess. Which is fine, and I can certainly understand why they nominated it. It’s just not what I was expecting.

Will I buy it?

No, I won’t be buying it right now. I liked what I played while I was playing it. I just felt like I’d had exactly enough of a very good thing when it ended. But I dunno. I can still see myself deciding to buy it at some point down the road. Maybe I’ll reach for it on a rainy day. Maybe. I’ll let you know if I ever do. If it ever comes to Xbox Live Arcade, I will almost certainly buy it, because I prefer to play games on my big TV, while lounging on my couch, than crouched over my keyboard, and I’m so close to sold on this that even that little bit of betterness would do it for me.

More info …

Here’s an interview with the creators, and here’s another. And Gamers With Jobs offers up a more-professional review of the thing than I am able to provide. Or you can just skip all that and go play it for yourself.

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