Last year, the revamped WiiWare version of the beloved indie game La Mulana was delayed upon its submission by publisher Nicalis, as it was deemed "not good enough” by Nintendo's quality control team. Nicalis must have sent Nintendo a dirty diaper with the words “La Mulana” scrawled crudely on the side instead of an actual game, because Play with Birds is definitive proof that anything can get on WiiWare as long as the game somewhat functions in a minor way; because frankly, there's absolutely no logical reason why this game should have ever seen the light of day. It simply isn't finished.
And yet, you might be tempted to download it just by the looks of it, because visually the game is actually somewhat impressive. The main character model is well-detailed, and the open world town you find yourself in is filled with brightly coloured and interestingly constructed buildings that actually wouldn't look out of place in Disney Epic Mickey. Of course the environment itself is stagnant and lifeless, but that's another story.
Graphics don't mean squat if you don't have the gameplay to back it up, though, and not only does Play With Birds not have the gameplay to back it up, but it manages to lower the WiiWare quality-bar in every other conceivable category.
Starting with sound... well, perhaps we should say the song, because that's the only “sound” you'll be hearing throughout your entire experience with the game (and it is, if nothing else, an experience.) There are no sound effects whatsoever: no pleasant “boing” when you jump, no “ka-ching” when you collect an item. Nothing. Except for one loud and inappropriately fast-paced big-band jazz travesty that blares endlessly in the background.
“Yes yes”, you say, “but what exactly is this game?”
Well it's rather hard to get a handle on what the game actually is, but we can at least attempt to explain what it's trying to be. Honestly though, it doesn't even seem like the developers were entirely sure what they were going for here. The premise revolves around growing up and trying to become famous, with elements of 3D platforming, but the reasoning behind the whole “fame” thing never comes together in a coherent way, causing the odd “fame” points you gather in the game to feel pointless and arbitrary.
Anyway, you gain these enigmatic fame points and stars — the purpose of which is also unclear — by playing a variety of minigames scattered throughout the overworld. The minigames are for the most part overlong, innocuous and with few exceptions, they don't control very well either.
When you're simply exploring the overworld the controls are even worse. Controlling a 3D game with the D-Pad rarely goes well, and this game is no different. You hold Up to walk forward, but you have to tilt the Wii Remote side to side to move left and right. The D-Pad's role disappears entirely, though, when you start flying (which you can do at any time by pressing 2) as you only use the motion controls while in the air.
Oh, but you can poop.
That's right folks, Play With Birds features the whole “bird” experience including, but not limited to, pooping on people's heads! Sure, the collision in this game is terrible so it rarely works the way it's supposed to outside of minigames (and they missed an obvious opportunity by assigning the button to 1 instead of 2) but still... pooping: Play With Birds has it.
And that's really Play with Birds in a nutshell: a shiny turd. A lot of half-decent ideas that, because of an extreme lack of effort, simply aren't fun. Exploring isn't fun because even though it's a colourful town, there aren't any collectables, the scary-looking NPCs don't acknowledge your existence (fame points don't help), and the controls make the entire act of exploring pretty cumbersome; the minigames aren't fun because they're uninspired, overly lengthy and, once again, don't control well. And on top of all that, there are enough technical problems like poor collision and glitched animations to make the whole thing practically impossible to enjoy.
It's almost poetic how bad the game is. What's supposed to be a family friendly 3D platformer with a cheerful open world setting actually comes across as a chaotic, paranoid nightmare. Horrible jazz music drowns out all other sound as your awkward protagonist stumbles clumsily through a freakishly perfect and empty city. Its inhabitants are like ghosts, oblivious to your existence, and you can walk right through them without their notice or concern. Chilling. Scratch that — horrifying. You have to pay for it.
When a game like Play With Birds is released on your download service, it means something is wrong. Aside from the colorful visuals, the game is so unpolished and in many ways unfinished that even if it were free we'd advise you to firmly ignore it. Instead it comes at 500 Wii Points. The truly sad thing is it's nothing new. Play With Birds isn't the first half-broken mess we've seen on the service and it won't be the last. It's simply yet another example of why Nintendo really needs to start cracking down on quality control on WiiWare, and even clearer evidence that they won't.