Serenity Forge begins The King’s Bird with a leap of faith. It prompts you to take control and jump from a ledge to fly free among the beautiful clouds. It was with this same spirit that I dived headlong into it — but unfortunately, my little flight came to a crashing halt, and I fell to the ground with a dull thud.
There is one thing The King’s Bird does well, one thing for sure that Serenity Forge should be congratulated for, and that’s their beautiful art style. Mixed with their lighting and particle effects this game is onto a winner… even if its sound effects are a touch overpowering. In fact, this game’s environments are spectacular. Even the player model, although free of detail, is expressive and animated. But do not be fooled; this game is not for casual players, those with short fuses, or the uncoordinated.
While Serenity Forge may market The King’s Bird as a “new yet easily accessible take on the precision-platforming genre” this game is neither precise nor particularly easy. Although it is a platformer, so it has that going for it I suppose. This game does require a huge — I simply cannot emphasize that quite enough — HUGE amount of accuracy… yet this game lacks precision. A platformer is near unplayable when attempting to jump onto one of its many platforms causes you to overshoot by a mile. You are given have two options to work with — a big jump or a bigger jump and you land where it makes you land. Its lack of control is frustrating, to say the least, and only becomes worse as you progress.
That being said, those of us who have tinkered in the games menu will know that by enabling “Assist Mode” it will make the game significantly easier for the less hardcore players. By enabling this setting, players can give themselves unlimited gliding, easier landings, near invulnerability, and a host of other bonuses. My issue with this being that since the game has no starting menu, and no prompt to change its settings, many less seasoned (or less curious) players may miss this feature altogether upon first playing. In this spirit, I played both with and without assisted mode, and believe me it makes an enormous difference to playability.
From a gameplay perspective, this game is hit ‘n’ miss. For starters, its default keyboard control layout is a little questionable (and perhaps a little casual for its intensity), but Serenity Forge has accommodated customization and controller support which is a plus. Personally, I found a controller easier to use for this particular title — namely due to the amount of rapid button pushes required to build up any sort of momentum. Thankfully the momentum Serenity Forge promotes in The King’s Bird will genuinely have you on the edge of your seat — until you crash into the same patch of brambles for the hundredth time… then it will have you off the edge of your seat and onto the floor and curled into a whimpering ball.
At that point, I would recommend those “Assisted Mode” options we talked about… for your own sanity, you understand. It’s both exciting and infuriating. Luckily this title focuses on collectibles and speed over a typical health or life system. The only major issue I have with this system is that you rarely build up enough momentum for the games selling feature to become feasibly enjoyable. However, the moments in which you do pick up momentum are exhilarating no matter how short-lived.
The King’s Bird has sound, graphics, and effects in spades, but it really lacks direction. While the few on-screen graphical hints they provide at the start of the game are helpful they simply fail to explain what it is you are doing generally. And I do understand that players are meant to work a lot of this out on their own; but it just makes it that much less accessible to other players — a failing for a game that aims for accessibility. Without an initial menu to familiarize themselves with players may not be able to optimize their games setup and difficulty; which only makes it more inaccessible. This theme, unfortunately, continues into its story; while I commend their attempts to create a “text-less narrative told through visuals in motion”… there is a difference between a text-less narrative and a lack of instruction.
I spent my time in The King’s Bird undeniably bewitched, bewildered, and bothered in equal measure. The game’s story itself is a well presented coming of age narrative. That being said, due to its unobtrusive text-less narrative, it can be easily overlooked; and in the case of those more hardcore platform gamers, it can be purposefully ignored to a point. Personally, I enjoyed the freedom I felt interoperating the story world of The King’s Bird throughout its five world types and cultures — despite having no way of knowing if my interoperations were correct. This title may have “five unique worlds to explore, full of vibrance and colorful silhouettes” but its levels and mechanics do become repetitive; and its worlds are perhaps more unique due to changes in their color palette than their more subtle changes in background.
Accessibility in term of technology is another matter altogether for this game; it will run on lower-end computers and it is a relatively small download (it was installed within minutes, and without a complicated UI or menu system getting to the gameplay was a work of mere moments). But the control setup is unfortunately not as intuitive as I would have hoped and a touch buggy. I encounter a sudden bug where I could not move with either the controller or the arrow keys but could dash with the keyboard despite the onscreen control hints correlating with the controller.
The key to playing The King’s Bird is memory, patience, and unending perseverance — without which you cannot hope to progress unassisted. Prepare to chain spawn over and over in your pursuit of collectibles every time you perish to a bramble patch or pool of water with an unfeasibly large hitbox. And when you miss a collectible, prepare for your checkpoint to make it inaccessible; requiring you to start the level all over again — but nothing beats the satisfaction when you do finally succeed. Understand that if you play this game you will spend the majority of your time jumping from hub world to hub world as you progress up the levels of this platformer. If you can do all this, and love a well-crafted game environment, then this game is for you — provided that is that you happen to possess the patience of a saint.