I’m not sure what’s creepier, a penguin with teeth or a talking pigeon. You might find yourself wondering the same thing once you jump into Ratloop’s new action platformer Rocketbirds 2: Evolution. You’ll be fed stranger and stranger scenes of anthropomorphism as this action-packed journey takes you from a poultry packing plant freezer all the way to the decks of a space-faring Owl-ian UFO. And its bird jokes all the way.
Rocketbirds 2 may be best summarized as an action-driven Oddworld or a puzzle-infused Metal Slug. It certainly borrows enough design, thematic, and mechanical elements from both – sometimes even too much. Sadly, Rockbirds 2 doesn’t seem to do much more than hand Abe an Uzi or Marco a crossword. Standard gunplay is fast, feels great, and gets better once the game introduces new mechanical components into the mix. For instance, your sidekick Metal can ride on your back and supplement your fire with his own shotgun. It’s a simple concept that makes gunfights incredibly satisfying to play, thanks to responsive controls and hard-hitting weapon sounds. However, like many other of its mechanics, the sidekick mechanic doesn’t travel far, as the game quickly proceeds on to a jetpack and scuba sequence before rapidly returning to standard gunplay for the majority of the story. The campaign is short and doesn’t take enough time to make the most of its mechanics before end-game.
Some puzzles are just too simple. For example, one obstacle has you leave Metal standing on a button to deactivate a laser system blocking a doorway so you may push forward. Easy. The game doesn’t then turn it around and require that you figure out a way to get Metal across the laser system as well. It just moves on. Many of these moments felt like missed opportunities for clever puzzle design and weakened the sidekick mechanic – which to me was the most enjoyable game mechanic – into more of a one-off gimmick.
Navigating the map could be challenging as some moments had you backtracking to look for secrets, keys, and switches. While I did at times feel lost, the game’s approach to navigation felt like an old-school touch that encouraged exploration and use of the map, sort of like a navigation puzzle. The map clearly demarcates areas you have yet to access and features color-coded doorways and labels, challenging players to work out their routes and rewarding cleverness.
If it hadn’t been for a miserable online community, I would’ve considered Rescue Mode a major selling point for Rocketbirds 2. I never found more than two joinable public games in my time with it. Furthermore, every time I tried to join either of the two public matches, I’d receive a notification that the host had ignored my join request. I was left to couch co-op with a buddy, which proved incredibly fun but never got to experience the max of four players within a single session.
The 2.5D environment is nicely detailed throughout but features a dramatic shifting perspective that follows you as you navigate each room horizontally – i.e. the camera slightly leans against your movements to pronounce the depth of the environment – that may nauseate some. Mechanically it’s totally unnecessary, as you never interact with your environment depth-wise, and perhaps a simple gimmick intended for the PSVITA version of the game. One would think the “3D Effect” slider in the video options menu could at least taper the drama of the shift though it didn’t seem to affect my visuals on PS4 in any way.
I’m not so sure of what got Ratloop to bring chickens and Kalashnikovs together and I’m not sure most players will either. Penguins are evil – that makes sense, but how about the rest? Premise aside, Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is great fun for what it is but doesn’t accomplish much beyond competence. It’s a great addition to the PS4’s couch co-op library but should’ve been much more.