Developer: Freebird Games
Genre: Adventure / Point and Click
Price: £3.99 / $4.99
Release Date: 7th November 2014
I have a confused relationship with emotionally-driven adventure games. For something of this medium to grab you by the heart and make you endure such a roller coaster of cathartic feelings is a powerful and addictive experience. They leave you exhausted, spent of all your stresses and tend to be the most memorable stories of all. But why? How can something that makes you rage at the screen or leave you in complete despair ever be considered an enjoyable way to spend your time. Maybe it’s like the aforementioned fairground ride or horror movies where a rush of exhilaration triggers those wonderful endorphins or maybe we just like to feel something.
Whatever it may be, the undisputed king of “there’s something in my eye” is Freebird Games. Their last title, To The Moon, was a renowned tearjerker and A Bird Story follows quite closely in its steps, thematically at least. Aside from that, there are quite a few stark differences between the two games which takes To The Moon’s divisive gameplay and spreads Marmite over it to make it even more hit or miss.
You guide a young boy through his days at school, having to get himself prepared as his parents are always absent, presumably busy with work away from home. One day, walking back alone, he finds an injured bird and decides to nurse it back to strength. From there, you have a story of bonding, loneliness, loss and coming of age most of which I’d find distasteful to give in-depth scrutiny as (much like its predecessor) the beauty comes in experiencing it for oneself. It might border on maudlin for some and certain elements are predictable from the very beginning but speaking as someone that guessed the twist for To The Moon before the reveal yet still “had a moment” regardless, it didn’t lessen the impact for me.
As an animal lover, the topic of a wounded animal immediately finds a chink in my armour. It’s well-written enough to be appreciated by people less enthused but those of us that grew up sobbing whilst watching Homeward Bound and All Dogs Go To Heaven will feel instantly engaged. It’s a much lighter topic than To The Moon’s generation spanning tale of utter sadness but it will still sting you if you get emotionally involved.
I’ve said before that I’m not particularly attracted to RPG Maker games, they can look bland and repetitive and the gameplay much of a cookie cutter sameness. It’s a bit more apparent that the program was used this time round with a drops in quality and repeated scenery noticeable throughout the short lifetime. It’s not unpleasant to look at by any means but it could easily be improved. The sound work, however, is top notch with soothing piano tracks that elevated during the more stressful moments. It’s subtle work but its inclusion is vital considering there’s no speech at all; even written.
It’s a linear experience and interactive moments are few and far between. Some might find it a little light in actual gameplay but then there’s also a huge market for visual novels on Steam and A Bird Story has much more in the way of “traditional” gaming than most VNs. Additionally, the game lasts roughly an hour which is unusually short by most standards. Whilst it uses the time very well; not needing a single second more to tell the story, its brevity combined with a complete lack of replayability makes it a hard sell. For those, like me, that appreciate a guarantee you’ll see the ending of a game when you have minimal free time then it can be a welcome boon. Even then, the memorable story means you’re unlikely to need to refresh your memory later down the years so it will likely collect virtual dust once complete.
I’d love to say that if you enjoyed Freebird’s other titles then this will be a surefire hit, but my experience hasn’t always proven the statement true. It’s as close to 50/50 as I have ever witnessed which makes it all the more impressive to see the developer offer a no questions asked refund for those that feel disappointed. It removes the minor gamble attached to the low entry cost and shows an impressively mature side that many developers could learn from. Hopefully, this isn’t abused as it’s a generous endeavour that goes some way to balancing Steam’s archaic refund policy. Either way, it makes it difficult to fault the game whether it leaves you cold or not.
There’s a unique experience on offer within ABS. It may be hard to preempt its success in winning you over but those that fall in love will find a beautiful short story of friendship woven with a child’s unbound imagination. I, for one, will never forget A Bird Story.