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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: February 21, 2001
Never underestimate the power of a well-told story. This is but one of the lessons that can be gleaned from the success of out-of-nowhere cinematic tales such as American Movie, Clutch, Cube, and more recently, Chicken Run. While cynics and critics alike were expecting this animated tale of escape-hungry fowl to shamelessly pander to children, there lie a surprisingly universal appeal hidden within its off-the-wall and decidedly silly antics. As a result, the film became somewhat of a media darling, charming its way into the hearts and wallets of movie-goers everywhere. In light of its box office success, this goofy story continues to live on, hoping to further extend its lifespan with its adoring audience in video game format, with an offering entitled — what else? — Chicken Run.
As might be fully expected from a title that’s based upon a box office hit, Chicken Run‘s plot is pulled directly from the movie that bears its name. Set in the “concentration camp”-like setting of razorwire, imposing fencework and endless searchlights, the story takes place in the dark realm known as Tweedy’s Farm. Here, coops full of innocent poultry live out their naive lives, blissfully unaware of the world around them. The young, plucky Ginger has other ideas, however, convinced that a greater life awaits them beyond the fences and guard dogs that surround them. Along with her scientifically-minded pal Mac, the confident rooster Rocky, as well as Nick and Fetcher, a pair of egg-loving rats, Ginger hatches a series of plans to escape the farm that contains them. Adding urgency to their attempts is the fact that the domineering Ms. Tweedy is looking to ask more from them than just their eggs, having recently invested in a fully automated “chicken pot pie” machine. With the sound of whirring blades at their heels, Ginger and company embark on their quest for freedom.
Of course, no tale involving the escape of cartoon chickens would be complete without wacky, ACME-like contraptions, something that Chicken Run provides in abundance. In fact, the fanciful gadgets that scatterbrained Mac frequently dreams up provide the incentive for your actions, as you dash about the farm in an adventure-style attempt to collect the ingredients that are to make up her inventions. For example, an elaborate costume might require that you track down and retrieve some poles, some boots, some gloves, as well as the missus’ long dress. Unfortunately, these items aren’t always laying about in the open, available for the thieving, so it’s up to you to explore the farm, searching high and low, from the barn to the Tweedy’s kitchen, for the objects that might deliver your freedom. You might even be forced to call upon Nick and Fetcher, whose dual abilities make up a few of the puzzles that you’ll encounter, as the former’s size provides him with strength, and the latter’s thinner frame allows him greater flexibility. These talents come to you as you attempt to determine how to balance one against the other, a problem that proves to be but one of many in your barnyard travels.
Small and wily as she may be, even Ginger can’t freely march about the Tweedy’s farm as she goes about her business. After all, the oppressive owners run a ridiculously tight ship, and any bird who dares to stray from her coop is in for a stern reprisal. As such, it’s up to you to see that our heroine remains free from discovery, which means that you’ll have to resort to stealth tactics. Armed with distraction-inducing brussel sprouts and the ability to tiptoe, you creep around the farm grounds while attempting to avoid the attention of the wandering Tweedys and their countless guard dogs. In a system not unlike that used in Metal Gear Solid, an onscreen radar informs you as to the location of nearby foes, as well as the outgoing cone that indicates their field of view. Stray into their path or make too much noise and they’ll hunt you down for a time, staying on your tail until you’ve been captured, escaped, or until you’ve waited it out. It’s sneaky business, but some chicken’s got to do it.
Life as poultry isn’t always about collection and stealth; occasionally, you have to get your hands dirty and take some decisive action. In Chicken Run, this means participating in a variety of frequently occurring mini-games. In some cases, this means recruiting help from others in order to prepare for your imminent escape. For example, you might find yourself speed-feeding a few friends in order to gain their eggs as currency for the rats, while another instance will have you recruiting others to start up an engine, or to help construct parts for a plane. Other, more pressing situations will ask that you put your carefully constructed escape plans into action. Such antics might include launching firecracker-wearing chickens through open doors and windows, using a seesaw and a mattress to bounce your friends over a fence, and even maintaining your balance as you hobble around in a Ms. Tweedy costume. If action isn’t your strongest suit, don’t worry, you’re provided with an infinite number of tries to perfect your reflexes.
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