Never once have I thought to myself, “You know what I would like? Another Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.” While I can see the merit and potential with that particular NES title, my child-self shutters in fear. Having no clue where to go or what to do, I was left wandering around aimlessly for hours trying to find my way. Kids at my school were no help either since Zelda II was much less popular than the first game. All of this is to say that Revenge of the Bird King takes the core concept of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and iterates upon it for a modern audience. After playing this game multiple times over, I thought to myself, “You know what I would like? Another Revenge of the Bird King.”
This stylized throwback to NES era platform shooting kicks into high gear almost immediately. Your tutorial is 2 levels long, and though you do find more items and abilities to support your journey, you have almost everything you need to be successful right away. It plays tight. It looks authentic. Most notably of all, the soundtrack absolutely SLAPS. These tunes kept me going for hours longer than I would normally give these retro-titles in one sitting. It’s crazy what some well-placed modern nuances will do to a late-80s-early-90s concept. Revenge of the Bird King takes the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality to a greater degree with its own version: “if it is broke, don’t throw it out.”
The story doesn’t really matter. In fact, I found that the pace only suffered by what felt like a halfhearted attempt at a story. You are a bird named P. Eagle, and you are looking for your dad. Some crazy monsters captured him, or something? Honestly, there was a lot of reading. Noticeably, there was something disorganized about the boss enemies that was really off-putting. With names like Sala-Man-Der and Night Mare, they seemed more like puns than actual well realized villains. This is where you can feel the utter lack of Nintendo’s presence in the design of the game. It’s designed like a poor imitation rather than something unique. Think of cartoons made by DreamWorks as opposed to cartoons made by Disney. One has that inarguable basic charm, while the other isn’t necessarily bad, though you can tell something is off.
If you were to compare Revenge of the Bird King to a game like Shovel Knight, which would be apropos seeing as how they are both NES-era platforming throwbacks, you could see how it carves out its own style by simply using a uniformity of characters’ designs. It’s all medieval fantasy genre-style character sprites for Shovel Knight. In Revenge of the Bird King, it’s animals and guns. But even with existence of artillery in the game, you seem to be the only one packing any heat, so this world isn’t necessarily congruent with this idea. Also, the world map pulls from the exact same look of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which doesn’t necessarily make sense with the established theme of animal gunplay. I am almost positive that when they cast a bald eagle as your protagonist, they were trying to say something about America, but it’s hard to tell what. It seems hack to be sending a pro-gun or anti-gun message in Revenge of the Bird King, as pro-gun doesn’t seem right, and anti-gun would have you wielding anything but a gun.
The gameplay is where Revenge of the Bird King truly shines. There’s nothing like a solid 2D platformer to make you feel powerful. Landing hard jumps using your arsenal of weaponry is something akin to Portal when you can pull it off right. The power-ups you receive throughout the game are both offensive and defensive. Both kinds (like the shield) will open up new areas to let you progress further until you uncover the mystery behind all of this rowdy nonsense. If you’re anything like me, then you are a sucker for a well-placed surprise, and this game has tons of those. At some point, you are able to assemble your own vehicle that opens a new kind of on-rails level. They didn’t need to add this, but they did. It’s in this moment of pure extracurricular gameplay development that the developer, Mighty Rabbit Studios, showed us how much they care. It goes a long way, in my book.
Overall, the game is about 10-12 hours depending on how much extra stuff you try to access. Getting stuck in this game is part of the fun, but I never felt like I was completely out of ideas. That trend of NES-style confusion is hopefully long dead. Revenge of the Bird King gives you just enough clues but not too many to keep you at a balanced pace throughout the game.
Developer: Mighty Rabbit Studios
Publisher: Limited Run Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also PS Vita)
Release Date: 27th December 2018