A Bird Story: A Review

Most games (and books and movies and so on) deliver their narrative in a linear progression, but there are plenty of works that go about it in a roundabout way. Sometimes, they let the viewer decide what really happened, sometimes they present events out of order, sometimes they use a lot of metaphors to convey their meaning. A Bird Story tries to tell a story through surreal dream sequences and fails, not because it is poorly made, but because of the limitations imposed on it by the creators.

A Bird Story tells the tale of a young shy boy who finds saves a wounded bird from an attack by a dog and nurses it back to health. The boy and the bird become friends and we see the story through his memories. It is pretty straightforward and has its touching moments of sweetness. But when the surrealism takes over, it can get really confusing.

a bird story 2

This imaginative interpretive sequence clearly demonstrates that the… I got nothing.

The game has no text whatsoever, and relies solely on communicating through its visuals and sound cues. However, because it was created in GameMaker, the visuals are on part with an old Super Nintendo Game and do not really have the fidelity required to communicate nuance.  It does work in a handful of scenes (the boy playing hide and seek with the bird on the balcony is one) but when the game goes into the weird dreamy space, there is no rhyme or reason to what we should draw from it. These two things together make it really challenging to consistently convey any kind of mood.

Granted, we are looking at the events of the game through the memories of the boy, and the surreal parts are his added imagination to his experiences with the bird. We know this because Freebird Games, the developer, tells us in the game description. This is barely inferred in the game, and I did not realize this is what was going on. So when his living room turns into a forest, or he makes a giant paper airplane to fly around the city with his bird, they were real what-the-fuck moments for me. (Developers really need to provide context of the game within the game itself and not rely on their store page descriptions.)

Additionally, it is not much of a game if you define it by level of interaction. Most of it plays as some sort of visual novel. So when the story stops and makes you jump in puddles to progress, it feels forced. It is as if Freebird Games felt compelled to add some sort of gamey aspect so it could be called a game. Perhaps these parts were meant as a way for the player to actively experience what they boy is experiencing in these moments, but then the whole game should be set up in this way. What we are allowed to do in these sequences has no effect on the story or the game itself. It is merely a way to either lengthen the experience or to validate A Bird Story as an actual “game”.

What we are left with is a polished game that tells the story of a shy, ignored boy but which fails to really connect to the audience. Choosing to make a game without text seems more like an experiment rather than an artistic choice.  The plot is dull and void of surprises, the surreal aspects are confusing to say the least, and when the developer has no problem releasing small games like this one for free, I wonder what the motivation was to put this up as a paid product. I would have much rather spent my money on the extra installments of To The Moon (provided free with the game) and have the opportunity to play A Bird Story free of charge.

Despite the clumsy presentation, there is substance here, for sure. I really do appreciate it when authors trust their audiences to understand and figure things out for themselves, but it can be hard to pinpoint why this works in some cases and not in others. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to relate to the boy and his lonely life, but I didn’t. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have appreciated the companionship between bird and boy, and how they both teach each other to fly. But I didn’t. There is no reason why I felt so bland about the game when I finished it, but I did.

Maybe I just didn’t get it.

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