Flight games aren’t new innovations. Neither are precision platformers. Heck, even flight in precision platformers isn’t a new thing. The King’s Bird, from Serenity Forge and Graffiti Games, is a precision platformer built on flight, but where it differs than most in the genre isn’t that it provides ingenious puzzles, but that it focuses on the joy of momentum.
The game’s style emphasizes the motion of the character in the world, not necessarily the world itself. In it we play the part of a girl trying to escape an isolated kingdom using a magical cloak that she finds one day. The cloak grants her flight, or rather, the ability to glide. In fact it’s more like a hybrid between flying and gliding. Acceleration and velocity play an important role, as I discover in my hands on demo with the game, in situations like where getting over a pillar requires dipping my flight to build up speed and then launching upward at the right time for optimal height.
It takes a few tries, but understanding the updraft becomes a necessary piece of knowledge, as does knowing how close to get to a ceiling to maintain speed or how to approach a wall or platform. And, because the cloak grants us these powers, it can drain over time if we’re in the air too long, requiring us to grab a sidewall or land on a ledge to replenish it. The game feels like it’s designed to get us to manage our flights and actions, and we better learn to manage that quickly. It’s not just traversal between platforms.
In open areas or corridors it’s fine; I’m able to get the angle and freedom to move just about where I want to go. But in areas where there are smaller ledges or gaps, there doesn’t seem to be enough room to get that acceleration. It takes a mental switch to approaching the game more like a traditional platformer, and becomes easy to fall and keep falling if we’re stuck on one side of our brain or another for too long.
To show that off, the game stays fairly minimalistic in aesthetics, allowing the motion and animation to take over. The studio wanted a delicate balance between aesthetics and gameplay mechanics, where both are intertwined and not complicated. The character animations add neat little momentum-based quirks and loops that finish a glide or motion, like a mini dance of completion. The music follows suit, composed to underline the plot’s odyssey-like feel. It often sounds like a consistently beautiful overworld theme is playing, but on further notice we find that our character is actually singing along, creating a countermelody when we’re in the air and doing something well.
The King’s Bird aims to provide players with a sense of flight and motion that we don’t often find in platformers. After just a short hands on demo, I’m impressed with the physics based gliding and flight. Level design will be of utmost importance in the game, and how the team approaches layering the momentum gameplay over top of the world and puzzles to let the movement remain enjoyable.
It’s a delicate balance, but if it ends up achieving that balance than the game could end up being something extremely special.