All in a Name
Bomb Chicken, developed and published by Nitrome, is a 2D puzzle-platformer that’s currently exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. Nitrome is a London-based independent studio that creates free-to-play (F2P) games for internet browsers and mobile platforms alike. According to the developers, Bomb Chicken started as an iOS/Android-based project. The game found its way to Steam Greenlight, but ultimately did not see an official release (though, there are still plans to release the game on PC). Considering the success independent developers have found lately on the Switch (see Castle Pixel’s Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King), it’s no surprise that others have followed suit.
When I first saw Bomb Chicken making its rounds on particular sites and social media, the name of the game didn’t strike me as something I would have been interested in. Not to disparage mobile gaming, but when I first read the title, I couldn’t help but picture Bomb Chicken as nothing more than some throwaway iOS/Android game. I’ll be the first to admit it, I’ve been conditioned to question anything that gets released on smart phones. While there are legitimately good mobile games on the market, one cannot discount the vast amount of copy-cats, cash-grabs and downright god-awful applications that are available to consumers. The name of a game can carry a positive or negative connotation and a lot of it depends on the end-user’s experience and expectation.
I would be remiss not to mention Atooi’s Chicken Wiggle, another 2D puzzle-platformer about a chicken and a worm. Chicken Wiggle released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop shortly after Switch’s launch. Although the game was received well amongst critics, no one played the game and for all intensive purposes, Chicken Wiggle was considered a commercial flop. Jools Watsham, the creator/founder of Atooi, released a depressing post-mortem questioning what exactly went wrong. He’s since launched a Kickstarter for a Switch port (which has been successfully funded) but not without some soul-searching first. Target audience, pricing and other circumstances were mentioned in his original post, but perhaps the title of the game didn’t help, either. What’s the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover”? Bomb Chicken exemplifies such a phrase and here’s why you shouldn’t let Nitrome suffer the same fate.
The Secret Sauce
As someone who loved the Game Boy Advance (GBA) and its unique 2D platformers, the most striking thing about Bomb Chicken is its crispy, 32-bit visuals. In a red sea of 8-bit/16-bit tributes, it’s nice to finally see an independent studio tackle a 2D platformer with a visual style that’s grossly unrepresented in today’s retro-inspired scene. Bomb Chicken, with its chunky sprites and exceptional animations, feels and looks like something that would have released alongside Nintendo’s very own Wario Land 4 or Game Freak’s Drill Dozer for the GBA. Ask any GBA aficionado and these two games are often discussed in conversation circles surrounding the hardware’s capabilities. If Bomb Chicken released 15+ years ago, it would have easily been a cult-classic on Nintendo’s portable platform of choice.
Bomb Chicken takes place underneath a pyramid-like structure that’s been occupied by a corporate fast-food chain called “BFC”. The game begins with a scene showing a corporate lackey, carrying a shipment of eggs, tossing a crate into a storage room. A loose egg lands on a suspicious-looking altar which douses the shell in a mysterious ooze. Moments later, a bomb-laying chicken hatches from its corporeal shell and it’s your job to escape from the underground facility! The game’s scenario is a silly parody on fast-food establishments and the messaging presented here is reminiscent of Oddworld Inhabitant’s Abe’s Odyssey/Exodus. Billboards with marketing logos and other advertisements are plastered throughout the facility and the workers on patrol can be seen sleeping on the job, playing games or interacting with the backgrounds in a variety of ways. It’s all rather immersive for a game that has little-to-no dialogue.
Bomb Chicken’s primary gameplay mechanic is the ability to lay bombs. The controls are simple; the player can move left or right and lay bombs with a single-tap of a button. There’s no jump-button or any other traversal technique available. Instead, the player must lay a bomb to elevate their chicken to out-of-reach platforms. What may come as a surprise is the fact that you can lay an indefinite amount of bombs. There’s no cool-down or limit to your bomb-blasting desires. The only thing preventing you from nuking an entire room is the ceiling. Whether it’s the top of the screen or a platform/roof above you, you’ll need a little space to hatch an egg. One wrong placement and you’re a roasted chicken!
Bomb Chicken consists of 29 short stages across three themed areas. Levels are designed in a linear, Point-A-to-B fashion (with a few branching paths). Each stage presents new ideas, enemies and puzzles which escalate in difficulty rather quickly. Bomb Chicken isn’t a particularly easy game. Beyond creating stacks of explosive eggs, you can also push bombs by charging into them. Launching bombs is used to solve puzzles, destroy enemies and clear other obstacles, however, it’s a very dangerous maneuver. Taking a single-hit from an enemy or blowing yourself up sends the player back to the start of the screen. Losing all of your health results in a game-over, although gems (the game’s main collectable) remain collected upon death.
Gems can be used between stages to upgrade your maximum health, too. There’s even a level-select, which allows the player to replay old stages in order to collect any gems they may have missed along the way. It is highly advised to collect the gems as you progress because it will give you more opportunities to retry certain screens before restarting the entire stage. Gems are often in out-of-reach locations and are tucked away in treasure chests found in hidden rooms. A good portion of the collectables require some pretty advanced bomb-placing techniques, too. I completed the game with everything collected and a lot of trial & error was required to obtain some of the more elusive secrets.
Bomb Chicken already has a lot going for it, but it’s the little extra details that set it apart from the rest. For one, the title screen is strangely ominous and unsettling. Upon booting the game, the screen remains focused on the game’s logo. The tip of a pyramid can be seen in the background with a “BFC” building at its peak. Planes carrying cargo shipments (presumably with sauce?) can be seen flying overhead. There’s no audio, either, only the sound of nearby birds chirping in the background. When the player presses start, the screen shifts to the operation below and a foreboding track plays as workers go about their business. Military trucks driving en route to god-knows-where and soldiers carrying crates of eggs paint a much darker picture than what one might initially suspect.
Simple lighting effects are also used to further immerse the player. Torch-lights and other light sources help illuminate the stages. There’s always a circular light-radius around the chicken, too, which I presume is used to keep the player focused on the chicken, as the screen can become quite chaotic. There’s even a degree of physics-based interaction throughout the environments. In some rooms, chains and other light-fixtures hang overhead and bomb blasts within their proximity can cause them to sway. Little details like this go a long way and it’s something I’ve always appreciated when developers go the extra mile.
Bomb Chicken isn’t perfect, but most of my issues with the game could be summarized as minor gripes. A big pet-peeve of mine is when there are too many enemies/hazards on a single screen, especially when it’s a 2D game (see The Mummy: Demastered, unfortunately). There was one occasion where the exit from a secret room lead into a path with a low-hanging ceiling. Upon exiting this room, the player was met with three enemies that had to be destroyed in order to progress. Not only were they too close to the exit of the screen, they also happened to re-spawn if you didn’t kill them fast enough! This problem didn’t occur too often, but is present nonetheless. The menus and user-interface (UI) could have used some work as well. I would have loved a more detailed level-select screen, for example, (perhaps similar to Super Mario World or even Shovel Knight) instead of the boring radial/numbered menu that’s present.
In terms of features and unlocks, the game is pretty bare-bones, too. Outside of collecting all of the gems (which is a feat in of itself), there’s no additional challenge modes or unlockables to pursue after the game is completed. Some in-game achievements or time trials would have been nice, but the game still feels complete, which is more important than some tacked-on extras. At the end of the day, I would love to see Nitrome step away from their mobile/web browser legacy and pursue more full-fledged titles like Bomb Chicken. They’re clearly a competent developer who have most, if not all of the right ideas. So, crack open an egg, scramble them if you’d like or cook them sunny-side-up! Brew some morning coffee and give Bomb Chicken a try, it’s the perfect game to have for breakfast before you tackle the rest of your day!