A Bird Story - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
To The Moon is a glorious, wonderful, heartfelt and really quite sad game. Experiencing it was an unrepeatable moment in time that lives with me today, four years after I first played it. Soon after I did so, the game’s developer - Freebird Games - released A Bird Story as a little something whilst they continued working on To The Moon’s now released sequel, Finding Paradise. Before I get to that hopefully delightful main course, I thought I should go and play the taster of A Bird Story first, after all it’s been in my backlog for about four years.
Ten Minutes In
The first thing to note is that the 16-bit aesthetic is very much retained and this in itself reassures me and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Brilliantly the music is wonderful again as well - so good that even this early I think it is something I’d happily listen to outside of the game, just as with To The Moon. The game though is very odd. It’s all been played out in a dream so far and I’m not yet sure what’s going on or where it’s going. Time will tell.
Thirty Minutes In
Right, now I’m getting it. There was no dream sequence in reality, just the developer using the feeling of that to help tell his story. It is probably a limitation of resources but one area - an apartment, for example - melded into another and then another. It was not a real layout, or a transition which might be expected. It all just blended.
The story is becoming clear and it’s quite incredible how much has been told given the limited time, the lack of dialogue and heck, even the lack of other characters (well, there are other people but they’re all shadows with no dialogue but they do have an occasional bubble above their heads to indicate something).
Equally the surrounding world and the place our main character lives is heavy with detail - detail which tells the story if not actual detail in the environment. It’s clear that we are playing as a young boy and yet his parents are never at home. Plenty of notes and help but not in the morning or at night. It tells us a lot about him - he seems lonely - and why we might be doing what he’s doing. As a game it’s very much what you’d expect having played To The Moon - walk around this limited world, interacting where required and otherwise just take it all in. What we have here is more like a visual novel in that respect. There was one odd moment of stealth gaming though. Surprisingly it worked, which is perhaps odder still.
One Hour In
It’s a very fantastical story about a boy and friendship. It feels like it to me anyway, and no-one else can tell me how I feel. Equally were you to play this your feelings might be very different. Despite this, and the fact that overall everything here seems very sweet and very well told, it’s dragging a little because there’s so very little to do. There’s no mystery to the story either, nothing to compel me forwards. I think I know where it’s going so what else is grabbing me? There aren’t any significant emotional beats, either. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a stopgap but those are the kind of expectations something so lovely will set. I kind of want it to just be over, already, despite the warmth I have taken from it so far.
After around one and a half hours the game is over. Nothing much changed for me in those final thirty minutes - finishing the game was almost like a chore. The scenes and the interactive aspects didn’t add much to the overall story which was pretty much done by the hour mark. It was nice and everything but it has kind of dented my confidence in Finding Paradise, making me wish I hadn’t played this now. Perhaps the limitations of the game and the way the story is told would have been acceptable had it had an “A-ha!” moment or something surprising along the way. As it stands it was just a visual storybook with a decent enough tale to tell, albeit one I wish I hadn’t now read. For me, I have spent four years looking forward to the next Freebird game. That is really Finding Paradise, but playing this has completely eliminated any of that excitement, and I’m not actually looking forwards anymore.
Perhaps, on a slightly more positive note, it allows me to go into Finding Paradise with low expectations. It might work in its favour. But right now, I’m feeling pretty down having quashed four years’ excitement in one and a half hours.