Bomb Chicken review - a blast from the past that doesn't quite fill you up
Cluck cluck boom.
Some games, like Zelda, give you lots of toys that do lots of things. Some games, like the grindiest free-to-play shooters, give you lots of toys that all essentially do one thing. And a few games, such as Nitrome's finger-licking Bomb Chicken, give you one toy that does lots of things. While too obese to jump, let alone fly, the game's dumpy star has qualities most factory-farmed hens (and platform game characters) lack: her eggs explode a few seconds after they're laid, and she can lay an endless number in swift succession.
Bombs aren't celebrated for their versatility, but these ones have surprising range - range enough to pad out a few hours worth of sprightly, engrossing platform puzzles, all set in a dingy processing plant in the depths of a cartoon Latin American jungle. They can be rapid-fired out to create teetering, volatile stacks, punting Bomb Chicken up to a ledge or allowing her to flop across spike pits. You can kick the bombs into marauding bats or robot turrets, or lay them on cracked blocks to expose caches of blue crystal, the game's sole collectible. They can be dropped on buttons to weigh them down while you run for a door, or even used as short-lived barriers against projectiles.
The catch throughout is that Bomb Chicken herself is not bomb-proof. To use the character's signature ability is to immediately endanger her, obliging a frantic scramble for the next area as the level detonates behind you. This adds a pleasing, unfamiliar urgency to challenges that can feel like a Greatest Hits of props and setups from the likes of Shovel Knight and Spelunky (the latter's dreaded homing ghosts put in an appearance, though you can at least daze them with explosives in Bomb Chicken). Later puzzles are pretty testing, requiring a cool head and quick reactions as you deal with problems like shockwaves travelling along goo slicks that extend around the chamber, or energy bolts blowing up your bombs ahead of schedule.
It's the kind of compact, evolving risk-reward structure that Nitrome - a veteran of the rise of Flash in the early noughties - is famous for, and it's backed up by some typically lavish yet comprehensible art. The backdrops aren't a feast on par with, say, Hollow Knight, but they're packed with cosy details and easy to read, each asset designed and placed according to an invisible grid that is just perceptible enough to sink into muscle memory. Bomb Chicken herself is immediately adorable, from her flailing attempts at flight to the way she swells up and bursts with a scandalised cluck when you waddle into something lethal.
While somewhat brief for the price ($15 or £12) and lacking secondary features like multiplayer, Bomb Chicken makes a terrific on-the-go game. Each of the 29 stages boils down into five or six individual sections that take seconds to beat once you've worked out the solution. They're book-ended by elevators that whisk you away to a sort of fast food shrine, where a menacing chicken idol booms about conquering the world via the addictive properties of hot blue sauce. Here you'll trade in the gems you've collected to increase the number of continues available per level.
The game's use of lives can be frustrating towards the finish, but is quite gentle by throwback platformer standards. It retains progress such as unlocked doors or gems collected once you've passed through the area in question, which eases the (frequent) pain of running out of continues and starting a level from scratch. You can also dip back into chapters from the pause screen to scoop up any gems you've missed, many tucked away in extra-hazardous treasure rooms screened by crumbling walls.
When not leveraging the likes of Spelunky, Bomb Chicken digs into the same vein of meat industry satire as the venerable Oddworld series, though with rather less ferocity. There are greasy product showrooms, spotlit adboards and a population of gloomy slaughterhouse workers in novelty promotional hats - some of them found comatose after gorging on the product, or bashing away at touchscreen games on their breaks in one of Nitrome's trademark shows of self-referentiality. It makes an apt theme for a game you could liken to a box of chicken nuggets, flavourful and moreish but designed as much for convenience as nutrition. There are better platformers on the Switch, but anybody looking for a moderately inventive, accomplished time-waster with a certain darkness at its core might want to sink their teeth into this.