Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is the most frustrating kind of indie game.
On the surface, this sequel to developer Ratloop's 2013 PlayStation 3 title, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, has a lot of things going for it. The game once again places you in the feet of Hardboiled Chicken, a tough-as-nails super-agent assigned to take out the evil Putzki, a megalomaniac penguin bent on world domination. It boasts twin-stick shooting controls, 2.5D backgrounds, co-op play, puzzles solved with high-tech gadgetry, and even a separate four-player co-op mode. On paper, this is the kind of game that we really want to like. Unfortunately, none of the game's features really work that well together. Instead, much of it feels half-baked and underdeveloped, coming off like a game from a previous generation, when our expectations were lower. If that wasn't bad enough, it also sports some of the schlockiest attempts at comedy we've ever seen, resulting in a game that is rarely entertaining in practice.
For starters, the release does very little to help familiarise new players with its ludicrous story, which picks up right where the first game ends. The game opens with a brief glimpse at a newspaper headline claiming that Putzki is alive and well, and much of the narrative hinges on the mystery behind his resurrection – the significance of which was completely lost on us, given that the game provides zero backstory. It doesn't help that the writing is incredibly juvenile – from the protagonist being referred to as "the original Cock of War", to making the first boss' weak spot a cannon in its crotch, to the puerile attempts at satirizing World War II propaganda. While the voice acting is well done and brings humour to otherwise cringe-worthy lines, it doesn't change the general mediocrity of the dialogue.
All of that could be forgiven, however, if the game's core mechanics weren't so infuriating. Even with a co-op partner, the title rarely makes you feel capable of handling the quantity of enemies it throws at you. Your character's movements are often sluggish, and aiming never feels quite as precise as it needs to be, which makes encounters against two or more foes feel like an unbalanced chore – especially in sequences where your only weapons are your fists. Weapon switching is a major issue here as well, since you're only able to switch between two weapons at a time without going into a clunky menu system. The puzzle-solving gadgets also take up a weapon slot, which led to a number of instances where we forgot to replace the gadget with a weapon, requiring us to enter the menu system while under heavy fire. All of these things amount to a poorly thought-out combat system that often felt like it punished us arbitrarily.
Where the game does make positive strides is its level design. There are six levels in total, four of which are longer encounters that, at first glance, have a distinct Metroidvania vibe to them. Most of the puzzles involve using your gadgets to trick enemies into opening doorways or dropping key cards that you then must backtrack to take advantage of. These are often highly simplistic, but they do give the illusion of scale to otherwise linear level design. The environments themselves are creative and feature fitting sound design; the first one definitely evoked Castle Wolfenstein, while a vibrant jungle level later on brings a drastic and much needed change of scenery.
In the end, Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is just not much fun. It's a relatively lengthy but disappointing experience with little replay value. The controls are blunt and clumsy, the humour is often witless, and the puzzles are at times so basic that there's not a lot of satisfaction in solving them. While there is a lot of potential on the surface, Ratloop may have wanted to sit on this egg a bit longer before it hatched.