Bird Game+ – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Bryan Tabor
Published By: Ratalaika Games
Release Date: May 03, 2019
Garden-based games have, excuse the pun, grown in popularity on Nintendo consoles. The Pikmin series is one of the most popular garden-based games, which launched on Gamecube in 2001 after Shigeru Miyamoto came up with the idea when standing in his garden after seeing a line of ants marching past his feet. This spawned a few more entries with 2017’s spin off Hey! Pikmin the last title in the series, appearing on Nintendo 3DS. With no Pikmin games on Nintendo Switch (yet), 2019’s The Gardens Between has been representing green-fingered gamers until now.
Bird Game+ soars on to Nintendo Switch from developer Bryan Tabor and publisher Ratalaika Games. Originally launching on Steam in 2018, this is a third person arcade on rails flying game where you play an Albatross flying through various garden-type landscapes while trying to avoid a variety of obstacles and insects. What initially catches your attention when starting Bird Game+ is it’s unusual black and white 3d art style, which looks like animated sketches on paper. Unfortunately after piquing your interest with its visual style, it doesn’t do enough else to keep your attention.
The first of Bird Game+’s three levels eases you into the experience, with the first section of the game acting as a tutorial. There isn’t a story as such, so when you start the game it throws you straight in the main game. You fly past a variety of flowers and plants while trying to not get blown off course by the wind, or hit by moving debris. You learn the basics, including a barrel roll type move reminiscent of Starfox which helps you get out of sticky situations. Like Starfox there are occasional route forks but there’s not much difference between the routes and you rejoin the main route shortly later on. The on rails gameplay may evoke memories of classic franchises such Starfox or Panzer Dragoon, but unfortunately you will wish you’re playing one of these instead.
Developer Bryan Tabor describes this as a ‘zen-like’ however you will likely not feel like you’re in a zen like state when playing this. Due to the visuals, it can often be difficult to see how close you are to enemies and objects when trying to fly past them. It sometimes feels slightly random as to whether you will collide with something or not. The HUD is quite minimalist to remove distractions from the playing experience however the downside is that it’s difficult to see how much health your bird has left when playing in docked mode, as the health bar is at the very bottom of the screen.
It lacks the fun and excitement of other on rails games for a variety of reasons. It does pose a challenge in parts but often that’s only during the end of level boss fights, and these are quite slow paced affairs that can drag on for a while. There are tricky set pieces during some of the levels but some of these are made trickier by you being caught blindsided by something which instant kills you that you can’t avoid. Controls don’t always feel as responsive as you’d expect which can lead you to a frustrating experience.
Your bird can take quite a few hits/collisions but being hit a rolling tree trunk or plunging in water respawns you back at the last checkpoint. To alleviate some of the frustration, checkpoints are spaced generously enough. There are enemies that sometimes charge at you or obstruct your way but, being a bird, you have to try and fly out of the way as you’ve no weapons to shoot them with.
Visually it is initially eye catching but the draw distance is quite poor and during some sections there is slowdown which hinders the experience and is surprising to see in a game that you wouldn’t expect to be giving your Switch such a workout. To add to this, there are occasional times where the game needs to load the next section but when loading the screen freezes and it looks like the game has crashed as there’s no text or icons to tell you it’s loading.
Reflecting the minimalist the of the game’s visuals, there isn’t much to this experience. At only three levels long, it’ll last you only an hour or so. There is an Endless mode if you want some more, but you’ll likely not be coming back for more. With its performance issues and inconsistent difficulty spikes it often feels more like a test of your patience than a test of your skill.