The King’s Bird Review: A Rocky Flight. There are moments of unfettered joy in A King’s Bird. As you glide through tight corridors or shinny up a long passageway to the heavens, the freedom of no longer being shackled by gravity takes hold. It’s during these stretches where the minimalist art and serene score combine beautifully with your graceful movements that A King’s Bird reaches its potential. But those feelings are fleeting. Instead of bottling the rush of flight, A King’s Bird instead conjures frustration and tedium as you struggle to replicate that brief happiness that vanishes before you could even appreciate it.
Although there is almost no story to speak of in A King’s Bird, it’s told in a lovely manner that meshes wonderfully with the abstract world. An argument between (presumably) a king and his daughter (though it’s never spelled out who any person is) breaks out, but instead of their harsh voices crashing against the pristine aesthetic, dreamy instrumental music floats from their mouths. The feelings are captured without a single word being uttered: a begging question, a firm no, a rush toward rebellion. The story sets an intriguing mood that the rest of the game fails to live up to.
A King’s Bird is a platformer that hinges on maintaining your momentum to overcome the many hurdles that stand between you and the exit. The environments are populated by pillars, horizontal walkways, and slanted surfaces and your only tools are the ability to climb up walls and glide for short distances. Bounce quickly between two pillars and then leap off the very top to build your kinetic energy. Once airborne, zip through the air like a frantic hummingbird, extending your limited flight capabilities by brushing against surfaces as you zero in on your destination.
During the early stages, there’s a great sense of freedom as you glide gracefully around the myriad landscapes. Jumping off a high point to gain as much speed as possible before pulling up to reach new heights gives you that happy queasiness normally found while riding roller coasters. Zipping through the introductory levels is joyous because there are so few restraints. Figuring out how to climb walls to boost the distance you can glide is fun because the world works as a playground waiting to be explored. Even just running across a smooth plateau is pleasant because the surreal architecture is so pleasing to look at.
It’s after you’ve learned the basics that the game stumbles back to earth. There are, of course, obstacles more dangerous than mere pillars. Poison ivy covers parts of the surfaces and death awaits as soon as you make contact with this dangerous substance. A steep challenge is a welcome addition to any platformer if the mechanics and level design can hold up to such stress, but the controls in A King’s Bird aren’t nearly precise enough to complement this level of difficulty.
That nasty poison ivy is situated in the most devious positions and it takes near-perfect execution to float by unscathed. A King’s Bird is undone by the very exuberance that made it so exciting early on. Gliding at top speeds through holes in pillars and across bottomless pits is fun if there is plenty of space between you and death, but as the walls close tighter around you, that fun begins to dissipate. It’s just too hard to consistently pull off the fine movement necessary to wind your way through these traps. So death comes early and often as you bang your head against the wall in the hopes of lucking your way past a truly aggravating part.