Falcon Age Review: Birds of a Feather (Switch)

Falcon Age spreads its wings and flies on to Nintendo Switch, inviting new players to share the desolate wasteland with their feathered friend. As Ara, a young woman who breaks free from prison, players will help liberate their community. But how well does a title designed for virtual reality work on Nintendo's handheld?

Falcon Age Review: Birds of a Feather (Switch)

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to have an emotional connection to a falcon, join a rebellion, or dress up your pet in a tiny hat, Falcon Age has you covered. A tale of a girl breaking free from her wrongful imprisonment who goes on to try and liberate a planet, all along with her faithful falcon in tow, players will explore a desert land either bashing up robots or merely enjoying the ride.

The biggest thing you need to know about Falcon Age is that it made me fall in love with a bird. I, Geoff Girardin, am incredibly afraid of birds. As a child, I was attacked by a group of ducks and the flapping of their wings haunts me to my core. In Falcon Age, I was able to care for and get support from the very thing I fear, and to me that is beautiful. Even more satisfying is that a game developed for virtual reality made the transition to a console such as Nintendo Switch as well as it did. There are some downsides to the final product, but overall, Falcon Age was a fantastic experience. Read on for our full rundown of the game.

Originally released in 2019 and designed for PlayStation VR, developers Outerloop will be releasing this emotional story on Nintendo Switch and PC (with VR support) on October 8th, 2020. Falcon Age is also available on Oculus Quest.

Falcon Age on Nintendo Switch and Steam on October 8th

STORY – FLY THE COOP

Falcon Age puts you in the shoes of Ara, a young woman sitting in a jail cell. Her captors are robots, who fill her days with tests that demand assimilation and hard labor mining ore. The only respite Ara has is the small family of falcons that live on her cell’s window sill. A mother and baby falcon, whom Ara bonds with by sharing her food rations. One day, one of the robot drones tries to exterminate the falcons, leaving the mother dead and the baby to hide in Ara’s care. As she bonds closer to the falcon, Ara plans and executes an escape that reunites her with her intimidating Auntie and sends her to liberate her community. Written in collaboration with 80 DaysMeg Jayanth, Cassandra Khaw, and Chandana Ekanayake, the story is pretty much guaranteed to be well executed.

As Ara moves through the desert area interacting with and liberating her people, she learns how falconry is an integral part of her culture. Her Auntie urges her to follow the traditions set by her family and fight the colonizers, while others try to recruit her to the side of the oppressive robots. Personally, I welcomed the narrative. Playing as a woman of color gave me (a white dad) a chance to see the world through the eyes of someone I don’t usually have the chance to relate with, and I believe it showed that the emotions we feel can transcend our circumstances. It’s also refreshing to see that relationships with family are complicated for everybody. As the first fleshed-out character you encounter, I found myself both rooting for and shying away from Ara’s Auntie all within the same conversation. Her abrasiveness and contempt for Ara’s behavior underscore a concern that she hides beneath the surface.

Ara's Auntie treats her with guidance and contempt. Just like real family.

Ara’s Auntie treats her with guidance and contempt. Just like real family.

The strength of the writing is most evident in the main aspect of Falcon Age, which is the relationship between Ara and the falcon. It’s a wordless union, but it’s strong, as the falcon obeys every command and Ara is very clearly working through some depression and abandonment issues through this relationship. It’s a story about liberation, connection, and independence, and it’s written beautifully.

GAMEPLAY – A BIT HAWKWARD

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Falcon Age was indeed first created for PlayStation VR, and that’s clear from the game itself. While first-person games have been around for far longer than virtual reality has been available, this title has that certain kind of presentation that is obviously made for the inside of a headset. The textures and models have a lot of pop-in, pushing the right analog stick in automatically centers the camera back to starting position, and Ara’s shadow has strangely thin appendages.

That being said, Falcon Age‘s gameplay does a pretty good job of translating to a more standard gameplay experience. The title runs great on Nintendo Switch, which allowed me the freedom to play with a cute bird in the comfort of my bed. At the beginning of the game, players are offered a choice of enabling combat, offering a chance to focus only on the relationship with the falcon instead of worrying about fighting controls. This accessibility option is a welcome and increasingly popular option for players who might prefer a title for its world-setting and story without getting mixed up with complicated mechanics.

Combat with evil robots is optional if you just want to love the bird.

Combat with evil robots is optional if you just want to love the bird.

However, even if you choose to play with combat, it’s pretty straightforward. Armed with an electric whip, players can jerk enemies around from a distance or smash them until they explode with the electric handle. The falcon responds to Ara’s commands, meaning that you can direct it to divebomb an enemy or drop it from a great height. Larger enemies are dealt with together, with the falcon providing a distraction while players can go to town on a weak point.

As the game progresses, Ara obtains practical and cosmetic items for the falcon, allowing its move-set to expand (digging claws) or just to have fun (skateboard tricks!). These things are all incredibly adorable, and collecting new things is a fun aspect of Falcon Age.

The bird can wear a hat as a baby or as an adult bird. It's cute both times.

The bird can wear a hat as a baby or as an adult bird. It’s cute both times.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – POULTRY IN MOTION

The art style of Falcon Age is a beautiful cartoony take on an environment that could be found in a title such as Borderlands. The terrain is a desolate desert, with rocks and cliffs jutting out in every direction. Settlements are shantytowns, with buildings constructed and held together by whatever the people had available. Most NPCs you encounter are in the middle of some sort of repair or spending their days wallowing in the despair of their own existence.

Everything shines when it comes to the falcon, your scarlet feathered friend. Every part of the bird is wonderfully detailed and adorable, allowing you to emotionally connect to your avian charge. As you progress, more customization options become available, from outfits to trinkets to plumage colors.

There is despair to be found in more than just the environment. Pop-in is a very real occurrence due to the draw distance of the title. This carries over from VR, but thankfully the problem is softened by the art style. Having a fairly minimal set of textures helps limit how much you notice that the texture of that rock or that patch of grass just showed up later than the rest of the area. Considering that Falcon Age has no loading screens beyond the initial start menu, you tend to take the good with the bad.

The falcon can wear a tiny hat. GOTY.

The falcon can wear a tiny hat. GOTY.

The cries of the falcon and the tiny noises it makes when you feed or pet it reminds me of a tiny baby that I will protect at all costs. There is limited voice-over work, and what is there fits the characters well. You spend more time reading the text conversation than paying attention to the VO, anyway. Dialogue is peppered with options for Ara to react with, and the tone of the voice work is what you’d expect to come out of the character’s mouths. The minimal voices is also a great design choice, as there aren’t any extended mouth movements. So instead of rushing through the text and listening to a disembodied voice continue on longer than it needs to, we’re treated with little sound bites that add to the experience of the conversations, rather than a strict audio file we have to sit through.

Falcon Age was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Popagenda PR.

Summary
Falcon Age is a great example of a narrative game that can work on multiple levels. It works in virtual reality, and it works on a handheld. As a story of liberation, and a story of companionship. The Switch version allows players of all types to explore and enjoy this delightful tale of a girl and her bird.
Good
  • The relationship with the bird is delightful.
  • Great art style that helps abate technical issues.
  • Optional combat.
  • Inspiring story and great writing.
  • The bird can breakdance, y'all.
Bad
  • Transition from VR to standard presentation is obvious.
  • Some graphical issues if you're paying attention.
  • Sometimes the bird gets distracted.
9
Amazing

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Antiriad2097

It’s a real shame none of the VR options have been ported over to use the Labo VR. I’d snap up any additional games to support that.

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