Twitch-platformers are a dime a dozen these days, with developers seemingly fond of pushing player’s platforming skills to the limit through a series of tough challenges. Well, you can expect more of the same in The King’s Bird, with Serenity Forge’s incredibly pretty title now available on consoles following its release on PC back in August last year. I’ll be the first to admit that it wowed me on its presentation alone initially, but the question remained: is The King’s Bird a platforming delight that deserves your time or is the challenge too punishing to be fun?
Well… it’s a bit of both.
The King’s Bird presents its story in a visual manner, with no text to tell you what exactly is going on. What I gathered initially was that the King isn’t the most pleasant of characters and that the kingdom he rules over is in a bit of a state of disarray, but it’s something that the seemingly royal female protagonist has been kept away from. After escaping from her home and gaining the power of flight, she looks to explore that vast world and uncover the truth of what exactly is going on.
This sends you on an adventure across five different environments as you run, jump, and fly your way across the stunning world. I feel I have to mention how bloody pretty The King’s Bird is, with the game adopting a minimalistic but beautifully coloured art style that never stopped impressing me throughout. You’re constantly surrounded by the impressive silhouettes of this enchanting world around you and it really helps bring everything to life as you glide across the skies. Add to that a lovely soundtrack that fits in perfectly with each environment and it’s easy to see that Serenity Forge have done a great job in crafting a warmly-presented experience.
Gameplay-wise, it’s all about making your way to the end of a level by working through a series of platforming challenges. It’s really satisfying to actually control the protagonist, with a big emphasis placed on gathering momentum and gliding across levels – you can’t just glide infinitely but actually have to ensure you’ve got the trajectory in place to hit your target location. With manoeuvres like wall-running, double jumps, and sliding at your disposal and plenty of walls and platforms around you to bounce off though, it’s never too difficult to keep yourself in the air. It’s actually really satisfying to pull off and the game does a good job of introducing you to all of its mechanics, so it’s hard not to find yourself having fun as you get through each level.
Whilst the mechanics of the game are satisfying though, The King’s Bird doesn’t always manage to balance out its difficulty. Much like other twitch-platformers, there’s an emphasis placed on putting more and more punishing challenges in the player’s way with inch-perfect manoeuvres demanded in order to progress. With a wide variety of hazards to watch out for too, you’ll need to master each level’s layout if you want to get through it unscathed.
Now I’ve enjoyed this kind of challenge in games like Super Meat Boy in the past, but I actually found myself a little frustrated here. There were times where I would glide in an almost-perfect way, but would still find myself falling short of the next platform and having to start my attempt all over again – sure, a lot of that is down to me, but it felt like there was almost no wiggle-room outside of getting the momentum and trajectory of your glides perfect every time. It made the game lose that addictive ‘one more try’ feeling at times and it left some instances of levels feeling overly tough for the sake of it. At least respawns happen instantly and checkpoints are fairly common, so you’re not left waiting too long to get back into the action nor are you sent too far back.
Those who want to alleviate the challenge and just enjoy The King’s Bird’s mechanics and world fuss-free will be glad to see there’s an ‘Assist Mode’ to play on which nullifies some hazards and makes it easier to get around. It’s flexible in design to allow players to cater the game to how they want to play it too, so you can just give yourself the help that you think you need. Admittedly, I didn’t really want to use the ‘Assist Mode’ just because it felt like I SHOULD be trying to conquer the game the way it’s meant to be played, but at least it offers a good alternative to just giving up on the game completely if you get fed up of the overly-challenging levels.
One thing I have to mention is that I did come across a few issues when playing the game, with the frame-rate dropping at times and some levels completely bugging out. The developer has released a patch that is meant to fix these bugs and I haven’t come across any obvious problems since its release, but there’s always a possibility that not everything is ironed out perfectly yet.
The King’s Bird is incredibly pretty to look at, has enjoyable gliding mechanics, and features an enchanting soundtrack, so it really has all the pieces in place to offer a thoroughly entertaining platforming experience. Unfortunately, it’s held back by some over-the-top difficulty spikes that feel more unfair than satisfying to overcome.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it did leave me a little frustrated at times and wishing that the game felt a bit more balanced – I enjoy a good challenge in a game, but not one that leaves me so annoyed that I want to stop playing.
The pros of The King’s Bird certainly outweigh the cons though and there’s definitely a fun time to be had adventuring across its beautiful world. Just don’t be surprised to find yourself a bit frustrated at times (and maybe even turning on the ‘Assist Mode’).
Developer: Serenity Forge
Publisher: Graffiti Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC