Good games can come from anywhere. This fact shouldn't be surprising, but sometimes it is, and sometimes it's best not to judge a book by its cover. Especially when that cover is the same ugly bird monstrosities that have defined a certain section of the gaming landscape for years now. Those who go in with an open mind will find that Claws and Feathers is the type of game that you can easily play while listening to a podcast, with levels that are short enough for quick sessions and long enough to feel satisfying to beat. It is a breezy puzzle game that layers on mechanics and complexity naturally and doesn't overstay its welcome.
The setup for Claws and Feathers is that a group of cats have stolen chicks right from their nests, and birds are out for revenge. Which honestly makes a lot more sense than fighting a group of evil pigs. Anyway, you control the birds and fight back by bunching them together into groups of three in order to surround their feline aggressors and free their babies from cages. The game board operates like a sliding puzzle game. Any bird can move to any space as long as there is a path for them. If the player makes a match, the board remains static. If they fail to make a match, then eggs begin to spawn in, cats drop from above, and everything generally gets more crowded.
Completing each level just to progress isn't too difficult, with the challenge coming in going back and attempting to achieve secondary objectives that require patient play and the use of various non-bird power-ups. These range from a lightning ball and fireworks that each clear away birds to a paint can that changes the board's layout in a tight spot. There is a short tutorial whenever something brand new is introduced, but Claws and Feathers respects the player's intelligence and allows them to experiment with slight variations on existing mechanics to figure out what they do. There are also boss fights and stages that are set up like Rube Goldberg machines, which come as a welcome change of pace from the standard levels.
Aesthetically, Claws and Feathers is challenging to say the least. The 3D models of the birds on display during gameplay sway and move in a very stilted fashion, similar to the creepy characters of Five Nights at Freddy's. Some of the designs are ridiculous enough to be funny, such as the purple bird with the Flavor Flav gold chain or the somewhat racist yellow bird with a Fu Manchu mustache. On a positive note, there is some nice hand drawn art used in cutscenes and tutorials that has a lot more character than the strange 3D models.
There are two music tracks that run on loop throughout the experience. They are suitable enough to the game but not long enough to be worth keeping on over your own tunes. You shouldn't come to casual puzzle games for anything but gameplay, and Claws and Feathers makes no attempts to disprove that sentiment.
I realize that many people will be put off immediately by Claws and Feathers, and for good reason. The game doesn't hide its mobile roots and the character designs are bizarre and unlikable. However, for those purely looking for casual puzzles in the vein of the games PopCap used to make, this will certainly fit the bill. The gameplay is simple but unique, and it is a good challenge to fully complete ever objective. The player is always in control of the action and the tutorials are quick and painless affairs. Claws and Feathers is likable because it doesn't get in your way and it can easily accompany any otherwise tedious activity on a lazy weekend afternoon.
This game was obtained from Buka Entertainment and reviewed on Steam.