St. Chicken is a flash game that one might call a puzzler, but there really isn’t much of anything to puzzle over. In fact, with its focus on collecting, you could call it a platformer… if there was anything to jump on. So, with it’s simplistic mechanics, brief playtime, and undemanding challenge I suppose St. Chicken fits squarely into the casual genre.
The game tells the unintegral story of a goldfish that accidentally got dropped into “the SACRED SPRING” one day and, deep in the water, began a life of eating little dots that caused him to balloon, squirt out little fishies with every sixth one he consumed, and then return back to his original size to begin the process over again.
You control Chicken (who sports a halo and is evidently a Saint, so evidently he’s dead, but it is unclear why) as he winds his way through ocean caverns with the goal of eating enough pellets to produce 25 offspring in each of the game’s eight levels. You unlock later levels by escorting the smaller fish to each level’s “relic” (sunken treasures and statues). This is a bit easier said than done because, though Chicken is invincible, the fish tailing him are vulnerable to the deadly sea creatures (electric eels and stingrays) that swim in horizontal lines across each level and kill the little fish in one hit. Further, these baby fish do really badly on their own. If they’re left behind for more than a few moments, their health quickly deteriorates, so Chicken must repeatedly summon them to stay close and regenerate from his magical glowy dead powers.
The game is easy to control. All you need to use are the arrow keys to move and the spacebar to summon your offspring. You can also control with the mouse by clicking where you want Chicken to go and clicking directly on him to send out your summoning waves. The keyboard control feels more intuitive and fluid, but it’s nice that the mouse option is included. The graphics are simple and do the job, including important details like your offspring going from glowing to skeletal as they decrease in health.
The sound effects are also functional as your fish release an obnoxious little cry when nearing death and a little “ding” increasing in pitch chimes with each pellet you eat until you hit six. There are two extremely simple background tracks that fit the game’s leisurely swimming around theme and pacing, but they get repetitive before long. You do have the option to turn the music off, though it stubbornly turns itself back on each time you return to the home screen.
The game’s core mechanic, as mentioned, is that Chicken grows each time he eats a dot with his size resetting after the sixth one. It’s a mechanic that seems clever at first, but it’s awfully basic, something that becomes apparent very quickly. There are amazing games based on one to two simple mechanics (Super Mario Bros., Klonoa, Rhythm Heaven) but they manage to be so good by virtue of introducing new situations to use those mechanics in that make them feel continually novel and fresh even though the player never has to learn any new controls or moves.
The problem with St. Chicken is that it doesn’t seem to have any idea of what to do with itself. With its gimmick, the only challenge it can really muster comes from including situations in levels where you need to be small enough to enter a certain passageway, so you either have to make sure you haven’t eaten so many pellets that you can’t fit, or you need to go find some more to eat until you’re returned to your original size. Either strategy requires backtracking to retrieve pellets at some point and, simply put, there’s nothing fun about backtracking. In fairness, the game doesn’t place a huge amount of importance on this and I believe there is only one level in which you can actually end up being stuck too big to collect all the pellets and offspring, but this means that the game’s only major mechanic goes almost completely ignored. It’s as though the developer recognized there was little he could do with it, so the game is content to mostly let you wander around eating and excreting fish without any strategy in mind. Some of the levels are solidly designed (for example, the classic concept of the level that begins with the ending in sight though not yet reachable makes an appearance), but making your way through them isn’t hugely absorbing.
The enemies that scroll across the levels are another issue. They’re generally fairly easy to avoid, but they always start on the left of the level, swim to the right, and then respawn back on the left side. If you happen to be swimming near the left side when an enemy spawns there, you may find all the offspring you’ve created by that point murdered in one fell swoop. You end up having to navigate these parts of the levels with luck, caution, waiting, and a bit of memorization. Unfortunately, waiting around to see where an enemy appears or trying to memorize their patterns is, again, simply not fun gameplay. There was only one level (the same one in which it’s possible to make some of the pellets unobtainable) where it became a palpable frustration. However, it never felt like the game was becoming more challenging, it just felt annoying and left me pining for the previous levels where I was able to swim about without a care.
Overall, St. Chicken is brief enough to succeed as a decent distraction. Except in the one level mentioned, the game never gets particularly irritating, but, then again, it never becomes truly challenging or exhilarating either. There’s some cleverness to be found in the design of some of the levels, but there’s just very little to actually do or think about when navigating them. You just swim around eating things and hammering the spacebar repeatedly to keep your feeble offspring in line. Ultimately, St. Chicken relies on such a simplistic concept that it never rises above being anything but casual.
Note: There is currently a bug in the game that makes it so it is only possible to collect 199 out of the 200 total offspring. However, the developer assures us he will be fixing this.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
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