Featherpunk Prime

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Super Hatch Games for PC, originally released in 2016.
In Featherpunk Prime, you take control of a robotic flamingo known as a Cybirdroid in a sidescrolling twin-stick shooter set across multiple floors of a neon-highlighted industrial facility. An evil corporation has descended on your home in Flamingo Valley and birdnapped your fellow Cybirdroids, but you manage to stow away on the ship as it departs for their corporate headquarters. When it sets down, you hop out, break into the facility, and start blasting your way thorough turrets, hovering bird-bots, and other mechanical beasties as you make your way up the tower one floor at a time.

The Cybirdroid is fairly mobile, with a 2x variable jump, a boost-assisted double jump, and the ability to slide under low overhangs or duck and crawl beneath them, while still being able to aim and fire in 360 degrees. The robo-flamingo is equally adept at maneuvering up and down walls, with the ability to wall jump up any vertical surface, wall slide, or even stick in place, which is useful for shooting enemies between platforms while avoiding return fire. The player can also boost in a straight line to the left or right, which is most useful for beating a hasty retreat when the screen fills with enemies and projectiles.

Your default pistol shoots as quickly as you can pull the trigger, and it doesn’t require a reload, making it a powerful and versatile weapon. You can carry two weapons at a time and swap between them at will, and as you move from one floor of the tower to the next, a single randomized weapon is offered to you, which you may grab or leave behind. In the early going, these weapons consist of a crossbow, a shotgun, a minigun, and a gun that shoots bouncing projectiles.

The opening set of weapons all have infinite ammo but must be reloaded between clips, or manually reloaded by the player. The player needs to be aware of this reload time during heavy firefights, especially with enemies that seek the player’s position.

The crossbow is a very slow weapon and is best used for targeting distant stationary enemies. A single tap of the button fires a weak gravity-affected bolt, but charging the weapon allows for a straight-firing bolt that does considerably more damage.

The shotgun, as expected, fires a concentrated spray of bullets that extend outward, making it best suited for up-close combat. The minigun emits a rapid-fire spray of bullets in a nearly straight line, making it useful against most enemies (and a good replacement for the pistol), especially bosses and other enemies with high HP.

The bouncing projectile is the most nuanced of the bunch. While it does allow the player to take down enemies around corners without threat of retaliation, the projectiles lose power with each bounce they make, eventually resulting in a weak projectile that may only reduce one or two HP from the enemy. As such, players can do more damage by lining up shots that only require a single bounce, and if enemies do move in on the player, it delivers solid damage as a line-of-sight weapon as well.

Defeated enemies drop purple blobs called “tekcells”, and these may also be found by blowing up egg sacs on the walls, found grouped together in clusters, or stored within spinning eggs. These act as the game’s currency, allowing the player to purchase a variety of upgrades. Tekcells collected in a given level are not banked until the player reaches the exit, so there is a risk of losing currency if the player falls in battle, but any previously-banked currency is retained regardless. Banked currency may be spent at any time from the pause menu.

Upgrades include higher maximum health, increased damage for your bullets, faster reload speed, increased chance for a critical hit, increased critical hit damage, resistance to certain environmental hazards, and the ability to draw tekcells toward you from greater distances. There are also some mobility upgrades in the form of a triple jump and the ability to boost up vertical surfaces. A few upgrades are locked at the start of the game and do not become available until new weapon types are unlocked.

Levels are procedurally generated, so layouts are different each time you pass through, although there is very little variety between them. Almost everything is comprised of right angles, with the occasional 45 degree slope mixed in, and generally blocky configurations. Levels consist of a mixture of rectangular boxes of varying sizes, with thin 1-way platforms dispersed throughout, and moving from one sector to the next merely changes the color of these elements and alternates to a different mechanically-themed texture.

The game features dozens of levels, so this lack of variety becomes very apparent as players move from one sector to the next. Furthermore, when the player is killed, he is sent back to the most recent entry point, and these appear only once every six levels. Thoroughly working your way through a 6-level stretch can take a good 20-30 minutes, so getting killed at a boss requires that you replay the preceding six levels again… not that they are distinguishable from any other six levels in the game.

Furthermore, the player’s health is not restored between levels – even upon completion of boss fights – so players must play carefully to avoid taking damage and make the most use of the few health restoratives that appear within the levels, lest they be shuttled back to the last entry point.

Enemy variety doesn’t fare much better, with most late-game enemies acting as stronger variants of their earlier counterparts, but with quicker movement, more health, and stronger projectiles. Every few levels, you will encounter a locked area which contains a heavy-duty sentinel that must be defeated before the exit unlocks. However, this enemy is repeated multiple times throughout the game, and poses less and less of a threat as the player acquires more powerful weapons. Most of the time, these sentinels can be destroyed from offscreen with little chance of retaliation.

Despite the repeated enemy types, there is a solid amount of variety between them, and players must prioritize their shots based on the threat – or combination of threats – at hand. For instance, enemies that seek the player’s position and fire projectiles must be dealt with quickly, especially since these enemies are small and difficult to hit with certain weapons, and they can chase the player to just about any point in the level.

Stationary turrets can be safely neutralized from a distance, but their attacks can be devastating if the player gets in the path of their ordinance. Some turrets fire in multiple directions, some aim at you if you are within their visual range, and others fire powerful heat-seeking missiles. Some of the tougher enemies are little self-contained missiles that warm up once you damage them, and they fly across the screen and smash into solid objects with a huge area of effect and a disastrous impact on your health meter. Unfortunately, it’s possible to activate these enemies by accident and find yourself with a face full of hellfire before you realize where they’re coming from.

Bosses appear every 12 levels, and these are fortunately quite varied, but they are also quite tough. Each boss has a wide range of attacks, requiring that players pay close attention to their telegraphs in order to avoid taking damage, as even a fully upgraded health meter can be worn down quickly by careless players. That said, boss’ health meters are gigantic as well, requiring loads and loads of firepower to destroy, which means that players will be cycling through the same set of attacks again and again, and may find themselves unable to deliver sufficient damage before their own health meters wear down, requiring a 6-level retreat and another 20-30 minutes of gameplay for a rematch.

Fortunately, banked currency remains stored regardless, so players can purchase upgrades on their way back to the boss. Upgrades occur at a deliberate pace over the course of the game, with each upgrade growing more expensive along the way. Unfortunately, since enemies grow in strength at roughly the same rate as your ability to purchase these upgrades, you are essentially paying to keep up with the difficulty curve.

Before the game’s midpoint, explosive weapons are unlocked, giving the player a more powerful array of devastating armaments to defeat their enemies… except ammo for these weapons is limited and they only reload between levels. Prior to acquiring explosive weapons, players can equip two standard weapons and alternate between them as the situation demands, such as switching between the bouncing bullets and the direct-damage minigun. With explosives, the player only gets three shots before the weapon is empty, making that weapon useless for the remainder of the level.

Players can pay to purchase a higher ammo capacity for these weapons, but that means they won’t be spending the money on upgrades like health, increased damage, and reload speed. For players who do not opt to upgrade their explosives, this decreases the likelihood that they will find a useful new weapon waiting for them at the start of the next level.

Some more useful armaments appear late in the game in the form of smart weapons with seeking behavior, and these get dropped into the random mix of distribution at the start of levels as well. Players also eventually gain access to a hovering support droid, a screen-clearing smart bomb, and an overdrive that temporarily increases the power of standard weapons.

Even the player’s default weapon changes as he makes progress, with the no-reload pistol being replaced with the burst rifle near the game’s midpoint. The burst rifle fires a quick stream of bullets, but does not fire continuously, so the player still needs to hammer the trigger just as he would with the pistol, but also needs to be mindful of reload times. The player’s default weapon is later swapped out for the arguably less useful shotgun.

Players who thoroughly explore the environment can locate a number of data orbs tucked around the levels, and these orbs may be accessed at the player’s base outside the first level. However, there is no viable information on these orbs aside from grainy pictures of the game's enemies, and there is no gameplay reward for discovering them.

Featherpunk Prime was developed by Super Hatch Games, which is comprised of a pair of ex-Sony developers: artist Stephen Payne and programmer Dan Jeffery. The game was developed over the course of a year, with development starting in 2015, and this is the studio’s first commercial release. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Wing Cap Audio.