In the era of always-online gaming, so-called “couch co-op” multiplayer is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Developers seem to now be looking at exclusively online multiplayer solutions to match players up and pit them against each other; offline multiplayer is now often regarded as little more than an afterthought.
But what if you just want to, you know, socialise, and get your friends around your living room TV and have a quick blast through a party game – rather than each of you having to have your own console, copy of the game and Internet connection? In the rather risqué-titled Fluster Cluck, LOOT Entertainment have sought to appease this audience and, in the process, restore some of the magic of offline multiplayer.
The premise of this cartoony twin-stick shooter is simple: Fluster Cluck’s universe is, suitably, powered by “applied chikkin technologies”, and its inhabitants’ insatiable desire for poultry products has led to a shortage of such resources. Players are placed in the role of one of the quirky employees of cosmic fast food corporation, Chikkin Koop, and have to move up the ranks of the company by (vegetarians, look away now) ‘chikkinizing’ everything in sight.
As you’ve probably gathered, those looking for cinematic cutscenes and photorealistic graphics needn’t bother with this one; Fluster Cluck is deliberately and unashamedly a back-to-basics party game, with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. The game was marketed around its ability to invoke nostalgia from the 64-bit era of gaming, and, as far as we’re concerned, LOOT have definitely succeeded on this front.
The basic gameplay consists of up to four players fighting it out in ten stages across four environments, with points being earned by using their mini UFO’s tractor beam to collect ‘ingredients’ – more on those later – and dropping them off in the target ‘chikkinizer’ area. Killing fellow co-workers (other players) during matches is rewarded, with bonuses being distributed for turning their fallen spaceships into chikkin. Each round is timed, and the winner is the player with the highest number of points when the clock runs down.
From the main menu, you’re greeted with two options. The first of these is the game’s ‘campaign’ â€“ which is actually a bit of a misnomer, as all you do here, in essence, is play through each level in sequence. ‘Battle’ lets you take part in individual rounds, with the default ‘Chikkin Hunt’ set-up being selectable alongside a more standard death match, as well as 2 vs. 2 options for both.
Players must then select their chosen character, vehicle and weaponry; all of which are upgradable as you progress through the game. You’re then thrown straight into the action, where you thankfully won’t feel immediately overwhelmed; Fluster Cluck has been successfully engineered as very much a pick-up-and-play title.
Each level’s ‘ingredients’ are in keeping with their environment: for example, cows inhabit the grassy hilltop stages, camels roam the desert, zombies populate the post-apocalyptic city, and treasure chests are scattered around the space pirate ship stages. That’s about the full extent of it, however, and frankly we’d have liked to have seen a greater variety of both biomes and creatures on offer.
A number of pick-ups, located at spawn points across each circuit, keep the action of Fluster Cluck’s matches very much back-and-forth, and they will feel instantly recognisable to anyone who played a karting or battle game many years ago on the Playstation 1 or N64. The items available to players include missiles, health icons, mines, defensive turrets, shields, and a ‘megafield’; the latter of which instantly ‘chikkinizes’ any opponent unlucky enough to come into contact with it.
Not only that, but the playing field is ever-changing, with special statuses temporarily affecting players during matches. The current top scorer and those on kill streaks will attract greater bounties, while those players designated as campers will receive fewer points until the status is lifted. The net result is that Fluster Cluck remains frantic, frustrating, and entertaining throughout.
Although the title lacks any great depth, some replayability is provided through an XP and upgrading system, in which players can expand the capabilities of their UFO as they move up the hierarchy of the Chikkin Koop. You’ll also unlock new characters, weaponry and special hats; all of which provide their own beneficial traits. At levels 20 and 40, respectively, the spaceships on offer receive more significant improvements to their maximum speed and the effectiveness of their weapons.
Although its visual presentation was designed with a retro feel very much in mind, Fluster Cluck may be a little too rough around the edges in places for some players to accept from a PS4-exclusive title. One criticism we have is that the game’s maps and HUD icons can appear far too small to discern during a frantic multiplayer match â€“ which led to some initial confusion about why some players were inexplicably receiving fewer or greater points, until we realised that the aforementioned statuses were in play.
The lack of an in-game live scoreboard also takes a little away from the action, as you’re never quite sure about exactly how many points are needed to catch up to the player in first place. With only three opponents, it shouldn’t be a hard feature to introduce and display onscreen.
Furthermore, while the game’s soundtrack is quite charming and each song is in keeping with the theme of its environment, it can begin to grate a little when you hear a music track loop for the umpteenth time. That said, the title does make effective use of the Dualshock’s speaker, and it’s extremely satisfying to hear the “bawk” of your friend’s controller as you turn his smouldering carcass into delicious chikkin.
As you’d expect, the game really excels in its multiplayer modes, offering up to four-player split screen action, resulting in mayhem and tantrums galore. It’s when playing with friends that strategy really kicks in during matches; getting drawn into a firefight may not necessarily be the best option when plenty of resources are left to collect in the level, and you have to adjust your game plan accordingly.
Ultimately, Fluster Cluck will provide players with at least a few hours of nostalgic action, even if you’re not able to have your friends over to take advantage of its split screen wackiness. The indie title is a fun distraction from an otherwise largely serious gaming landscape in 2014, and priced at $14.99 ($8.99 for Playstation Plus subscribers), it’s very much a budget game that’s worth its money. Bakaw!