Avenger Bird Review by Devin White
It’s easy to think of Steam Shovelers as having a cynical view of video games. It is very much a response to the incredible amount of terrible video games that are being released on Steam, which is why even the logo is a poop emoji. But there is also another side to this outlook, because equally important to the shit are the gems in the shit. They may not be as numerous as the shit, and they may not be as much fun to talk about, but finding them is just as important as shoveling out the steamy pile of crap.
In many ways, Avenger Bird appears to be very similar to another game I reviewed. I approached this one with similar trepidation. The graphics and art style did not impress me much, especially given the main character is essentially a ripoff of Flappy Bird, and that the game boasts features like “[t]reasure in every level”. The fact that it starts off with a Unity: Personal Edition logo didn’t help either.
Publisher: PlayWay S.A.
Release: January 5, 2017
Intel i5-4570 @ 3.20GHz
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
I was really surprised to find out that Avenger Bird is good. Really good, in fact. As in, a game that is very easy to recommend to people.
You play as a bird seeking to get her children back after a hawk steals them. To do this, you must jump and glide through just over 30 levels, collecting coins along the way. Unlike its title would imply, Avenger Bird is not a very violent game. There are enemies, but you cannot hurt or kill these enemies at all. All you can do is jump and glide around them.
The controls are much floatier than most platformers. You can jump, double jump, and glide, and the jumping and gliding are governed by two different meters. These actions feel responsive, but there are unfortunately many times when it feels like whether or not the bird can make a jump is unclear, leading to times when the player is not sure whether they need to search for another solution or just keep trying the same jump. The game is heavily reliant upon a sort of swooping mechanic where the player can get over corners and gain lots of air by hitting corners even if they are out of jumps. At first this felt like a physics bug, but the game seems designed with it in mind, so it must have been intentional.
For the first quarter of the game or so, these controls are iffy but manageable. The levels seem more geared toward exploration than precision platforming, so they are rarely frustrating. Again, no attacking means that the player is essentially just walking and jumping around avoiding enemies, so it feels simple but relaxing.
Then the game amps up the difficulty, and by all rights, the game should become much more frustrating. Having sloppy controls is a cardinal sin in precision platformers, but something strange happens here. The nuances of the controls become second nature, and soon enough you learn a lot of tricks to help you get through levels. For instance, if you walk off a ledge, you still get two jumps, meaning you can get a little farther for jumps that give you the height advantage. You can also stop your momentum with a glide and then jump up with your second jump, which helps get around the trickier obstacles. While the controls may feel sloppy, they are also consistent. It may feel weird that you can float up stairs and around obstacles, but taking advantage of that becomes part of the game’s appeal.
The aesthetics of the game contribute to its laid-back feeling. In many ways, the graphics and sounds of the game feel like a comfortable if not terribly flattering sweater. None of it is especially jaw dropping, and some parts are downright ugly (I am looking at you, whale that looks like it was drawn by someone almost as unskilled at art as me), but the overall effect is really nice, and even the ugly parts do have a certain charm about them. While some parts do not mesh well, the graphics are incredibly pleasant, and it is really amusing when you realize the vague pixel shapes are meant to represent things like an Indiana Jones-esque tomb or a town park. This really does feel like a game that you want to cuddle up with before bed.
The music is almost unexpectedly good. The chiptune beats complement the retro art style well and make the aesthetic feel more sincere than the numerous games that opt for 16-bit graphics. The worst you can say about it is that it is repetitive, but it never gets grating and is never unwelcome.
“At some point, Avenger Bird stopped being simply a pleasant game and started being an excellent game.”
Unfortunately, the difficulty spikes in the game hurt this cuddly feeling. There are threats that are not well telegraphed, specifically the arrow traps that cause instant death and always seem to blend into the background. While the consistent nature of the controls do make figuring them out mostly entertaining, there are parts that seem to rely on tricky abuses of the physics to get anywhere, often in ways that do not make it clear what you are doing wrong. Even getting to the final level was a considerable challenge, one that I was not sure I would make (I falsely blame the delayed nature of this review on this fact… which I am going to do). The vast majority of the time, these difficulty spikes ended with me going, “I did not know I could do that,” followed by the revelation that it was all fairly simple, but the times that this did not happen still feel sore.
Even worse is the fact that the true ending requires you to collect all the gems in every level, which I was not able to do. I got most of them, and while getting the remainder mostly just seemed challenging, at least one seems impossible. There is an achievement for getting it, which makes me think it is possible somehow, but I was not able to any evidence online of others doing so.
I do feel like I should mention the pricepoint of the game. The game is only $3.99. While a lower pricepoint does not necessarily make a bad game good (and Avenger Bird is not a bad game in the first place), it is a good sign that the developers set their price to match the ambition of the game. If you go into it expecting the value of a game like Binding of Isaac or Shovel Knight, you will be disappointed. But if you meet Avenger Bird on its own terms, as a simple but endearing game, it is an easy sell.
At some point, Avenger Bird stopped being simply a pleasant game and started being an excellent game. It is hard to pinpoint where exactly this happened. It may have happened when I got to the snow levels and had to jump around adorable little snow slimes. It may have happened when I got to the desert levels and realized the game introduced a completely new mechanic that changed how levels felt. It probably happened by the time I realized that this simple game was keeping me up at night, and even when it frustrated me, I did not want to put it down. I do not know how, but somehow Avenger Bird is a game that I can recommend to just about everyone.