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Alfred Chicken

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

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In 1993, an 8-bit video game cartridge called Alfred Chicken was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. It was published by a company called Twilight; which, in retrospect, is not a good sign. The fact that the developer was Mindscape was not the best of signs either.

Gameplay

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At face value, this is a two-dimensional, horizontally and vertically scrolling platformer puzzle game, in which the player controls a fowl; in this case, a chicken, through multiple levels in an effort to find certain items, all while engaging in precision-jumping challenges and engaging enemies in both battle and avoidance.

In these respects, Alfred Chicken is astoundingly similar to Kiwi Kraze, although Kraze (also known as The New Zealand Story) was released years earlier and, frankly, is a superior cart.

That being said, in Chicken, Alfred must progress through five stages. In each, the goal is to find and peck (by pressing Down) all the balloons. A count of remaining balloons can be given by pressing Start, which also shows how much time is being taken and how many points have been scored. Alfred jumps with the A button and, while in midair, can go into a corkscrew beak-first dive bomb by holding the Down button, which is his primary method of defeating foes and busting ice blocks. Holding the A button is midair slows his descent.

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There are doors to travel through, which access different areas of the stage, usually going back and forth between a “main” portions. Some enemies can be defeated outright, while others, like the black spiky balls that tend to move in a circular pattern around a green thingy, must merely be avoided. There is a definite emphasis on precision-jumping puzzles, with many spikes to avoid, little hops to make, even springs to bound off of with careful timing of another A button press.

But there are also items to find, which is where the already-odd game begins to get truly bizarre. For example, there is a watering can hidden on every stage, which by collecting earns a 1-up if the player completes the stage. Why a watering can? This is never explained, and seems like an arbitrary, even random designation.

In fact, the entire fricking video game seems completely whacked-out crazy random and arbitrary. Each stage has a loose theme in its graphical presentation, but the variance is insane, from a building blocks level to a book-and-boards area to a science-fiction zone. In between beating stages, Alfred may fly through a blue “space” field to gather bonus-point treasure box items, or fight a “Meka Chicken” in a strange static-screen shooter mode, complete with an enemy health bar and the sudden capacity to fire bullets. There are even a couple underwater portions, which themselves include parts where Alfred must dodge robotic miniature whales.

Oh, but do not forget the occasional wall that can be walked through, the spinning pink feather item that must be gathered from a jumping box as the only way to break certain blockades, toggle switches that make certain block groupings appear or disappear for which the player must figure out the correct pattern in certain cases, the egg in a cup that provides a 1-up when touched and hatched, the snails that may fire a cannon from their back or simply transform into a spiky statue, and the growing unease that perhaps this bizarre game is the result of a bad acid trip, meant to be played while very drunk and/or very high.

Graphics

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The visuals are not awful, but they lack a certain polish. In a way that is difficult to describe yet obvious the moment you see it, the art used is very “flat,” lacking outlines or layers, giving the human player a “washed-out” sensation for everything. All this, despite the fact that the game prides itself on not having a big single color for its backgrounds, instead plastering little stars and crap across the canvas of the levels. Another instance: The first stage’s color sample is in a yellow and brown theme, even though Alfred himself is yellow and brown, and the whole event just feels stale and yucky.

Sound

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The sound effects are barely there, and the music? Torturous. Utterly, phenomenally unenjoyable. The same theme plays throughout each stage, and it seems specifically engineered to be thoroughly upsetting and disturbing. Like a carnival tune played off-key, or a carousel spinning slightly too fast, or a too-young child at his or her first violin recital, the background music is the stuff of nightmares. Stay far away. Your ears will thank you. This is, truly and genuinely, among the very select few NES video games that is actually better when muted.

Originality
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This is the ultimate rental game: If you are not a collector, just a player, you will try this only to realize that you would be very okay with not owning it. It is not a staggeringly horrible game; in fact, some of the puzzle design is clever (like the spring that bounces you into instant death on a downward-facing spike on the ceiling if you are not careful), and it is perhaps maybe potentially possibly creative, but it is short, lacks replay value, and just seems to be aggravating, annoying, and bothersome throughout.

The utter randomness, brain-numbingly bad music, and short length combine to make this a slightly less-than-average game. Really, it executes smoothly and clearly plays according to the developers’ plans. But does it have to be so frantically mind-screwy? Again: Kiwi Kraze is better. This one, Alfred Chicken, gets two and a half stars out of five.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3JxzjuwJ5k[/youtube]

Ugh, that music. Forgive my casual, informal, brief first-person rant, but even as a reviewer who does not usually place much rating weight on a game’s soundtrack, usually just seeing it as a peripheral feature and not a deciding factor – if this game had better music, I would rate it a half-star higher. I am not even kidding. The music is bad enough that it makes the game definitively, quantifiably worse. I hate it. Some NES games are already bad, so the bad soundtrack is to be expected, but this, this abomination, this has no excuse that would be as convenient. Argh.