I am very much into long scarves floating in the breeze. Whether attached to wandering journeymen or agile superheroes, they really add a certain it factor to the proceedings. This is the initial factor that drew me into Serenity Forge's setup at E3 earlier this year. Their screen showed a figure in silhouette floating through the breeze without a care in the world. Once I had controller in hand, the level design hooked me. Here was gameplay combining freewheeling motion with a colorful iteration of Limbo's monotone. I was thankful to find that there's more to The King's Bird than a stylish scarf.
The King's Bird is minimalist, telling its story via brief pantomime exchanges. You are a resident of a race of fliers who yearns to take to the skies again. After disposing of a magical barrier and arguing with who I assume to be the titular King, you take off for new horizons. I do appreciate the simplicity and I acknowledge that not every game has to tell an epic yarn. At the same time, you generally want your simple story to be understandable at a basic level. Everything I know about The King's Bird's world comes from my own assumptions, and I found myself wanting something more solid.
After leaving the nest, the sky is yours for the taking. Along with your sticky Meat Boy-esque wall jumping, you have a boost and a glide. Using these moves and the power of physics, you can reach impossible heights and traverse extremely long distances. Just off the beaten path, there are collectible birds that encourage even more precision flying. By the end of the game, levels consist solely of a few carefully placed pillars and no ground to speak of. The challenge of finding ways to gain great heights and distances become the core of the experience.
When you get some momentum behind you, The King's Bird is at its best. Effortlessly weaving through dangerous areas, switching from flight to sliding on the ground, it all feels great when it works. Unfortunately, the gamepad controls can be a bit fiddly even once you know what you're doing. The main culprit is the high jump, which calls on you to hit both jump and boost at the same time. Boost defaults to a trigger, and there's no controller remapping that I could see. This move is vital to getting around, but I couldn't get it out reliably every time no matter how hard I tried.
The lack of button remapping is only one of several omitted features that I missed. The King's Bird loads you straight into the action, forgoing a main menu and multiple save slots. If you just want to restart, you can always reset game progress in the options. Since the campaign only lasts a few hours once you know what you're doing, this is fine for speedrunners. However, the run of the mill player might be turned off by such a limited system.
They also might find the way you select levels to be a bit obtuse. Each of the four hub worlds contains a collection of warps that take you to sets of four levels. However, finding these warps is part of the game, and they're sometimes well hidden or placed behind a tricky obstacle. The game spawns you instantly at generous checkpoints wherever you die, so that isn't an issue. Still, the fact that you can die while trying to backtrack for collectibles is quite annoying.
This lack of options is surprising considering that The King's Bird also contains an amazingly accessible set of difficulty tuners. These assist mode options let you do everything from extending your flight indefinitely to activating god mode. You can even slow the game's speed down and make the collision detection more generous. This level of fine-tuning is exciting to see in any game, as it lets everyone sit down and give it a go at their own pace.
Considering The King's Bird's presentation, I can see it turning a lot of heads even amongst non-gamers. The visuals are striking, with bright contrasting colors and a great sense of speed. The aforementioned wind scarf fluttering in the breeze really sells your aerial maneuvers while doubling as a handily hidden meter. The game's music is of a similar quality, but the tracks don't really seem to fit in with the rest of the game's vibe. When you're playing correctly, the focus is on speed and accuracy. The soundtrack's collection of ambient forest tunes doesn't sell this all that well, even as it changes with your movement. It doesn't help that you get the same piece on loop for the entirety of each world. Even the best songs can get grating that way.
An artistically-minded game with sharp mechanical ideas, The King's Bird does have a lot going for it. At its most basic level, it feels like a Sonic the Hedgehog game designed by the Ecco the Dolphin team. While beautiful, the game isn't for everyone, and that menu-based barrier to entry might hide away the features that would let more folks enjoy this title. Still, if you feel the need for speed or want to play the world's most pretentious version of Green Hill Zone, The King's Bird will fit the bill.
Our The King's Bird review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
The King's Bird captures a freewheeling spirit in its aerial platforming but doesn't do enough to leave a mark with anyone but the most hardcore.
- Precision Platforming
- Great Sense of Speed
- Impressive Assist Mode
- Limiting Feature Set
- Fiddly Gamepad Controls
- Out of Place Soundtrack