Bomb Chicken is one of those games where the title perfectly encapsulates the experience of playing the game. It’s got bombs, so it’s deadly. It’s got a chicken, so it’s goofy. It’s simple—so simple it teeters between genius and inanity—and yet entirely memorable, almost instantly iconic. That’s Bomb Chicken in a nutshell.
I have a soft spot in my heart for browser-based Flash platformers and puzzlers, having spent many hours playing them when I was bored in computer class. Back in the earlier days of the internet, good Flash games were already doing the same things for which many of today’s most celebrated indie titles are praised. Combining unique aesthetics with clever game design brought to life with simple controls, the pioneering stars of Newgrounds and the like were some of the most thoughtful, design-centric games you could play—even if keeping them free meant filling them with advertisements. Eventually, these same design philosophies would lead to mobile megahits like Angry Birds and Flappy Bird.
Nitrome is one of the longest-running and most prolific developers of such games, and it’s probably never truly received the credit or recognition it deserves. Starting in 2004, the British developer has made over 140 browser and, more recently, mobile games, and it’s finally getting some time on the main stage in the form of its first console game, Bomb Chicken.
Here’s the gist: A fast food fried chicken chain called BFC is mining for the main ingredient of its world-famous blue hot sauces when it inadvertently gives the power of laying bombs to one of its chickens. Egged on (heh) by a mysterious force living inside a giant chicken statue, Bomb Chicken (B.C. for short) must make its way through a series of trap-laden, enemy-ridden puzzle-based levels in order to, I don’t know, stop them or something.
Like most indie games that are centered on singular core concept, the story setup is really just there as an excuse to get the protagonist from one room to another while utilizing their one unique ability. In the case of Bomb Chicken, that ability just happens to be one of the most ingeniously adapted platforming mechanics I’ve encountered in a long time.
B.C.’s only ability is the power to lay bombs and kick them across the screen. Obviously, there’s a heavy Bomberman influence here, but the 2D platforming of Bomb Chicken turns what is purely an offensive projectile in Bomberman into both a platforming tool and one of the game’s most significant obstacles.
In Bomb Chicken, the player can lay as many bombs as they want and stack them as high as the level allows in order to scale obstacles, avoid traps, and kill enemies. The catch is that the bombs will explode after only a few seconds, so it’s imperative to act fast, and if the chicken is caught in the blast radius, it’ll die with a satisfying pop.
It might seem like an obvious design choice that the bombs should kill the chicken. After all, they’re bombs—that’s what bombs do. But, in most video games (especially platformers), the character’s main ability and mode of transportation doesn’t usually create another enemy to avoid, another obstacle to overcome, another thing that can kill you. Mario’s Tanooki Suit doesn’t damage him every time he uses it to turn into a statue, and Mega Man isn’t shooting himself with his own blaster.
That’s the genius of Bomb Chicken‘s exceedingly simple design: the bombs giveth, and the bombs killeth.
Timing and spatial awareness is, therefore, everything. Take too long to make your move while perched atop a stack of the satisfyingly plump explosives and you will be treated to a colorful chain reaction that will burn B.C. to a crisp. Kick a bomb too close to an enemy or a destructible wall and you, too, will feel the heat. The bomb might be evil, but it’s a necessary evil, and leads to some unexpectedly tense (and, occasionally, hand-wringingly, teeth-clenchingly frustrating) platforming moments along the lines of a Spelunky or a Celeste.
Thankfully, the level design is able to match the cleverness of the game’s central mechanic. Each of the game’s 27 levels is made up of about 5 to 7 boards—plus a couple of extra hidden, bonus boards—all based on a specific theme centered on an enemy type or particular obstacle. Progressing from board to board means encountering and mastering more difficult variations on the central theme of that level, and the majority of these themes are damnably clever. One particular level that really stood out centered around setting off a bomb on a blue material on the floor that would cause a wave of spikes to split off in either direction, creating yet another obstacle that you had to navigate, all while avoiding projectiles from turrets and rotating spinning saw blades. You might feel outmatched by the level design at first, but if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to tackle each level’s particular theme in the early couple of boards that serve as mini tutorials without holding your hand. Like my high school English teacher, Bomb Chicken is tough but fair and always educating you about the rules.
You’ll die a lot, but dying is another part of Bomb Chicken where the design really shines. The point of every level might be to simply get from the entrance to exit in one piece, but along the way you’ll have the opportunity to place yourself even further in peril to collect blue gems, the only collectibles in the game. These blue gems can be spent at the end of each level to get a permanent extra life, though the prices for these extra lives will steadily ramp up each time your purchase one. If you lose all your lives on a particular level, you’ll have to start that level over, but the gems you’ve collected in the boards you’ve completed will remain in your pocket. On top of that, Bomb Chicken won’t penalize you for dying in a level until you’ve passed the first board, minimizing the amount of times you’ll have to experience the game over screen. Sure, starting over a level can be annoying, especially if you’ve made it to the last board, but it never seems like an unfair punishment and instead reads as yet another learning experience. Losing all your lives and then coming back to completely master a board that gave you trouble the first time around is one of the most satisfying experiences the game offers.
That being said, Bomb Chicken isn’t a particularly long game. Once you finally feel like you’ve truly mastered the art of laying bombs, the game will put you up against its one tough boss fight (out of the two boss fights in the entire game) and then it’s over. The only real incentive to play through it again is to go back to collect the gems you’ve missed, and maybe to prove to yourself how well you’ve honed your skills. While a true console platformer like Celeste provides several days’ worth of post-game challenges, Bomb Chicken feels like it ends just as it’s really beginning to push you to the edge.
Another place where Bomb Chicken falls a little flat is in how it progresses your main ability. Yes, I know I was just gushing about the simple genius of Bomb Chicken‘s central mechanic and how it creates complexity with a single button, but it’s almost too simple, at least compared to other similarly short but ultimately more satisfying recent platformers like Shovel Knight. While the levels around you might constantly change, B.C.’s bomb-laying ability remains static throughout the entire campaign. It would have been nice to have learned a couple of new abilities to master along the way to create some narrative sense, especially because the game is almost completely lacking in any semblance of story. Stacking new abilities on top of the bombs might have overly complicated things, but by the end I was looking for something new to do. The lack of progression in what players can actually do is where Bomb Chicken most closely resembles its developer’s Flash and mobile game roots.
In the end, however, sticking to one’s roots isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when they’re as instantly recognizable and overwhelmingly successful as Nitrome’s. The developer’s signature is all over this one, especially when it comes to the beautiful pixel art, lively animation, excellent chiptune sound design, and ironically epic background score. As its first foray into console game design, Bomb Chicken proves that Nitrome knows what it’s doing. Next time, I hope they can push it just a little bit further.
|Publisher: Nitrome Ltd. • Developer: Nitrome Ltd. • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10+ • Release Date: 07.12.18|
Bomb Chicken is a classic indie puzzle-platformer that wears its developer’s history and influence on its sleeve. From its Super Nintendo-inspired, colorful pixel art to its one unique platforming mechanic, Bomb Chicken is truly an education in how to put together a satisfying gaming experience—though players hoping that the length and narrative of a game like Celeste or the ability progression of a Shovel Knight might make their way into a game about a chicken that lays bombs will be a little disappointed.
|The Good||Clever level design and the simple genius of its central mechanic make every level feel fresh yet familiar.|
|The Bad||It all ends a little too soon and barely gives you a reason to return.|
|The Ugly||The amount of times I wanted to throw my Switch out the window.|
|Bomb Chicken is available on Nintendo Switch and PC. Review based on Nintendo Switch version. Review code was provided by Nitrome Ltd. for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|