Of Bird and Cage is an interesting take on a walking simulator that showed some potential. It is a narrative based game tied to an original sound track. Although the premise of an interactive music video had promise, the execution felt incredibly sloppy. Both the game and level design proved to be a hindrance rather than reinforce the interactive music video concept.
Before I go over what I felt were the design flaws, we’ll briefly cover the narrative focus of the game as well as the more interesting concepts the game explored. Of Bird and Cage follows the rather tragic life of a young woman named Gitta. We follow her as she struggles through life and remembers her traumatic childhood. I found the narrative to be par for the course for games claiming to be of a more “psychological” nature. Take that as you will.
As for the more interesting concepts the game tried to explore, the idea of tying a game to a sound track had a great deal of promise. The music definitely set the tone for the game and there was very little need for dialogue as the lyrics filled in for the exposition of the narrative and the music conveyed the necessary emotions.
While I would like to see more games experiment with the idea of an interactive music video, there were definitely some flaws in how Of Bird and Cage implemented this concept. For starters, if the genre of music is not something the player enjoys, it makes the entire experience worse as the music plays nonstop. You can turn the music off but it makes the game less than ideal to play as most of the narrative is delivered through the music and the lyrics.
In addition to this, the way Of Bird and Cage made sure the game progressed in time to the soundtrack was to put a timer on every level and there was simply not enough time to do all the objectives. For a narrative focused game that encourages exploration by providing collectables as well as side objectives, the timer is a direct contradiction to exploration. You end up rushing through the game, trying to complete the main objectives and this breaks the immersion of just simply exploring and trying to find out more about the characters and the world.
The game also introduces a lot of half baked mechanics that ruin the pacing of the game. There is for some reason a fist fighting mechanic. You only have two controls, guard and attack and you seem to fail every fight if you only attack, even if you don’t get hit. This forces the player to guard the entire time until the enemy attacks and then spam attack for a little and repeat the process. It feels drawn out, and unnecessary. The worst part is that there are a lot of these segments.
The puzzle and level designs are overly complicated as well, given the time limit. The later levels are too large and the player moves too slowly to fully explore and figure out the puzzles in the given time. This creates a feeling of frustration as you feel like you never have enough time to just play the game. The game constantly throws objectives at you with very little hints or feedback as to what you should be doing or why you are failing an objective.
Overall, Of Bird and Cage is an interesting experiment in an idea that has potential but failed in the execution. For a narrative focused game, it should make sure that the narrative is first and foremost in the game and that every added mechanic should add on to this, not take away from it. The limited time, combined with large levels with poor lighting and poor player feedback, creates an exercise in frustration while taking the focus away from the narrative. More is not necessarily better all the time. Of Bird and Cage would have benefited from a much simpler approach and let the music and story do the heavy lifting.