The 2012 Must Have Games consisted mostly of established console franchises – titles that are guaranteed to sell based on name alone. Yet for many gamers, the true standout title in the lineup was the sequel to a little-known indie game for Windows Phone. I speak, of course, about Chickens Can’t Fly, the follow-up to Chickens Can Dream – both from British developer AmusedSloth. In case the silly name didn’t clue you in, CCF (as I’ll now shorten it) is a highly creative title with a delightful sense of humor. Just watch out – the difficulty is sometimes less friendly than the rest of the game.
Don’t tell PETA
In CCF, you play as a chicken who must navigate a variety of obstacles courses. The chicken is always falling downward, making for a sort of reverse Doodle Jump. Tilting the phone left and right steers the avian hero. Chicken literally can’t stop falling, but you can at least slow him down in a couple of ways: touching walls cause shim to slide, while tapping the screen flaps his wings. Still, he continually gains speed the longer he stays alive, so even with those moves at your disposal, things get pretty hectic. Thankfully his speed resets whenever you pass a checkpoint.
The game’s 61 experiments (levels) are divided up into five labs: Hatchery (tutorial levels), Butchery, Cemetery, Military, and Physics. These labs are more than just different backdrops. Each one has unique powerups, powerdowns, and obstacles, making for a nice bit of variety. New items are usually introduced in their own specific experiment, with creative titles like “Does Chicken like 8-bit?” which involves the Pixelizer item. This teaches players what the items do organically – a good thing because the actual instructions are presented in drawings rather than text (ala Beards & Beaks), presumably to cut down on translation costs.
Experiments can have a variety of different goals. Sometimes Chicken just needs to survive until the end. Other times he’s fighting against time or has to pick up a certain number of items by the time he reaches the end of the level. If you reach the bottom without meeting the experiment’s criteria, you fail and have to retry it.
Chicken is always looking for corn to eat – it’s spread out everywhere and gives him points. When you complete a n experiment, you may earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal depending on your score. Now here’s the tricky part – just collecting lots of corn won’t usually get your score high enough for the gold. To reach the maximum rating, you’ll need to take advantage of the combo system.
At any given time, Chicken’s combo multiplier is displayed at the top-left corner of the screen. Falling for a while without slowing down boosts it to 2X, doubling the score earned from each piece of corn. But 2X isn’t even enough for most Golds – that’s where powerdowns come in. CCF rewards players for taking risks by collecting harmful items. These include items that shrink or grow the Chicken, an item that reverses steering controls, several items that obscure the player’s view in some way, and many more. You also gain multipliers for catching on fire or getting poisoned, but both conditions will result in certain death if you don’t cure them in time.
The combo system certainly adds a lot of replay value to the game since you’ll often need to try a stage more than once before you reach the Gold medal score. It can lead to frustration too though. Some levels have score goals that are ridiculously hard to reach. See, every time you play a level, the layout is randomized. This includes item frequency and location. Many times the randomly-generated level just won’t have enough items to boost the multiplier high enough for the goal. I literally spent an hour replaying one five-minute level before the stars finally aligned and I managed to gold it. Thankfully, the developers are likely to fine-tune the more problematic levels with a future patch.
- Survival: Once you’ve completed a certain number of experiments within a lab, you’ll unlock that lab’s Survival mode. This model is basically the original Chickens Can Dream, since that game didn’t have individual experiments. Rather than ending after a certain number of checkpoints, Survival is made up of endless checkpoints, so it lasts as long as you can stay alive. Passing checkpoints gives Chicken an extra life, so skilled players can potentially play for quite a while.
- Weekly Challenge: These are specific Survival levels that change every week. This mode has its own global leaderboard, so players can actually compete against each other for high scores.
The bird is the word
CCF’s cartoonish art style instills the game with loads of personality; everything is very well drawn. The music is well-composed and fits the game’s zany personality. It gets old pretty quickly though. The reason: the tune starts over each time you replay a level. Since some levels require a ton of replaying to pass or earn the Gold, you’ll hear the same bit of the song over and over ad nauseum. Amused Sloth plans to make the song loop in a future update, thankfully.
CCF comes with six free ringtones that are unlocked from the start. Awesome idea, but the ringtones are made up of chicken squawks. Yeah, um… I can’t imagine anyone but a small child actually enjoying them. Why didn’t they include the actual game music as a ringtone, I wonder? Far less annoying, avatar awards are coming in a future update.
I mentioned that earning Gold medals can be frustrating, which means that the Achievement for earning all Golds will be difficult if not impossible for many players to earn until the difficulty is rebalanced. Another tough Achievement requires you to get over 300,000 points in a single level. Some players have managed to get it, but no one has developed a consistent strategy for it just yet.
I hate to make a squawk about it, but CCF also has two annoying grinding Achievements: Eliminate 1000 obstacles using the Butcher Shield, Holy Cross, Nuke or EMP; and gather one million total corn. This sort of Achievement adds nothing but boredom to any game. The million corn one in particular just takes absolutely forever, ugh. Amused Sloth has promised to alleviate the corn grind in some way later on, so it may be less of a problem in the future.
Chickens Can’t Fly is one of the better Xbox Live title to come out in February. Only the difficulty spikes and overly-time consuming Achievements keep the game from greatness - it’s like getting ordering a box of white meat chicken and finding that a third of the pieces are thighs. But when CCF’s not frustrating the hell out of me, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Amused Sloth has made an impressive Xbox Live debut – let’s hope we hear more from them in the future.
Chickens Can’t Fly costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Don’t wait for the cock’s crow - pick it up here on the Marketplace today.