Jools Watsham's Atooi — formerly part of Renegade Kid — made quite a name for itself in the very early days of the 3DS eShop when it put out Mutant Mudds, a high-quality retro action platformer. It seems only fitting then that this splinter studio would put out a similar title here in the autumn of the life of the 3DS, aptly bookending the generation with some excellent 2D platforming. The new title is of course Chicken Wiggle, and although the main game doesn’t hit quite the same highs as its water-blasting predecessor, the level creation tools add a whole new dimension that creates a virtually endless amount of fun content and replayability.
Chicken Wiggle sees you taking control of the eponymous bird and worm duo, as they run, grapple and peck their way through eight worlds to save all the caged birds. Along the way you’ll have to nab collectables, find secrets, grab power-ups and navigate some tricky platforming sections. Right from the off, Chicken Wiggle is unmistakably a game from the creator of Mutant Mudds. The visuals are crisp, the controls are extremely tight and the level designs are straightforward and satisfying.
Chicken Wiggle follows the Nintendo design philosophy of "Kishotenketsu" — keeping levels exciting by introducing new ideas in a rapid-fire fashion — quite well, and while the levels do reuse assets and obstacles from time to time, it’s impressive how fresh the experience can feel from stage to stage. One might have you riding a hot air balloon around air currents under a strict time limit, while the next might see you navigating a tricky selection of binary blocks that appear or disappear every time you jump. Some levels introduce a new power-up that changes the way you play, such as the ability to break blocks with your peck or to fly. You never know what to expect next out of Chicken Wiggle, and that is perhaps one of its strongest characteristics.
With that being said, though, there is a lingering sense of there being a lack of progress and that permeates the grander campaign. Every level hides three “FUN” letters somewhere and also has a hundred diamonds to collect along the way that act somewhat like the coins of this game. However, these collectables exist solely for the sake of collecting them. There are no unlockable levels or abilities, and the collectables will just reappear if you replay a level, as if you had never done anything. While romping through the levels just for the intrinsic fun of playing them works for a while, this lack of feedback makes the main campaign feel less cohesive and more like just a straight set of levels to play with little to no connection between them. Given the strong focus on level creation tools in this game, perhaps that’s how the campaign mode is meant to be viewed, but even so, it’s a bit deflating and it feels like a bit more effort could’ve been made on this front.
You’ll quickly forget the middling campaign, however, once you get into what is arguably meant to be the main mode: the level creator. Here, every single element from the campaign is available to you to arrange how you see fit in your own levels. You can pick your own themes, your own goals, and make the levels as difficult or as bizarre as you want. Once you finish designing a level — and can properly beat it and collect everything you hid — that level can then be uploaded to the global server for the world to play and rate. If any of that makes you think of Super Mario Maker, you’re not far off, because that’s pretty much exactly what this game is offering.
The level creation tools are intuitive, in depth, and easy to pick up. Everything’s handled on a grid on the touch screen, and a toolbar at the top of it organizes everything into easily browsed sections. Once you’ve selected the element you want, you just tap where you want to put it down. Tools on the bottom of the screen also allow you to do things more efficiently such as filling a set space with a certain tile type or erasing things in bulk. There’s no gating of content here like Mario Maker did, so it can all be a bit overwhelming if you didn’t play through the campaign first to see the various things in action, but it’s not too hard to experiment. On the whole, the level creation tools prove to be the strongest draw of this game; it can be very easy to get caught up in making a level, and the portable nature of the 3DS allows you to pick up right where you left off if you’re playing in short bursts.
The global server is smartly designed, too, and succeeds where Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS failed by actually letting you play other peoples’ levels online. Everything is laid out in an easy-to-browse menu where you can view the ratings and downloads of each level. This is where all the real magic happens, as you just never know what the internet will cook up next. Our favourite level from this was a stage that remade the original Pac-Man, with the interesting wrinkle being that you have to grapple your way around the maze corners as you dodge all the ghosts. Atooi also regularly uploads new original stages, which build upon the ideas of the original campaign. All of it can be organized and perused easily through a search tool that lets you search by various filters or keywords. It’s a breeze to use, and with such a diverse lineup of content, there’s always something new and interesting to play.
On the presentation front, there’s not much here that will wow or excite, but Chicken Wiggle is just bursting with charm. Spritework is expressive and detailed, even if animations are a bit simple, and the environments are vibrant. Atooi puts the 3D effect to great use here as well, levels have a satisfying layered look to them; we’d certainly recommend you play this one with the 3D slider turned up. On the sound front, there’s not a whole lot of memorable tunes, but there are plenty of cute chirps and synths put to use that help contribute to the friendly and whimsical atmosphere the developer was clearly going for. On the whole, the presentation won’t dazzle you, but it’ll likely put a smile on your face.
Chicken Wiggle is a game that delights in so many ways, even if it also manages to disappoint in some. While the main campaign isn’t much to write home about, it works well as a varied tutorial that teaches you the ins and outs so you can design levels of your own. The user-generated content is the real star of the show here, and there will no doubt be plenty to look forward to in the coming months and years. We would give Chicken Wiggle a recommendation to anyone who really appreciated Super Mario Maker; there’s lots of creativity to explore here, and it’s a game that’ll keep on giving.