Clucking around

  • Developer: Avalanche Software
  • Publisher: Buena Vista Games
  • Original Release Date: October 18th, 2005 (North America), November 17th, 2005 (France), November 30th, 2005 (Australia), February 10th, 2006 (United Kingdom), February 15th, 2012 (Germany)
  • Available on: Xbox (version played here), Playstation 2, Gamecube, Windows (and Steam as of 2015), Playstation 3 (as a PS2 Classic on the Playstation Network)
  • Genre: 3D Platformer, Action, Minigames

I’ve received plenty of gag gifts over the years. Once people know you’re patient enough to play through just about anything out of undying curiosity, they start pouring in real fast. I’ve got multiple DS games based on Disney Channel shows I’ve never seen, My Pet Chimp, Jerry Rice and Nitus’ Dog Football, M&Ms Kart Racing, I could go on. Heck, most of my modest Wii collection is just gag gifts! It sounds like I’m venting here, but I really do enjoy receiving these since they’re personal in a way many gifts aren’t. It takes a strong understanding of someone to know that they won’t be disappointed by an intentionally questionable gift, so I’m always appreciative of my friends and family knowing that I’m not one to back down from a challenge, to put it one way. My brother and I have a yearly tradition around Christmas where he always makes a point of sneaking in some ridiculous games to go along with whatever else he gets me and I eagerly look forward to it every time. He’s a far better gift giver than I am and I’m always impressed by how he finds new and innovative ways to catch me off guard. That’s where Disney’s Chicken Little comes in; it was one of my brother’s gag gifts to me from last year and as an adaptation of one of Disney’s most critically panned films, it’s not exactly something a lot of people are looking to get nowadays!

First off, it’s worth mentioning that this game got a significant upgrade via the Xbox backwards compatibility program as part of its final update. For whatever reason, Chicken Little now supports 60 FPS, 1080p resolution on Xbox Series S/X, and Auto HDR. I have no clue why this game got the red carpet over making popular games like Jet Set Radio Future or Microsoft owned games like Blinx 2 compatible at all, but it’s impossible to deny just how funny the whole thing is. I don’t like to talk about performance and technical stuff here since I have basically zero interest in it whatsoever, but considering this upgrade was the motivator for my brother picking it, it deserves special mention. Plus, it makes the game look pretty dang good! Chicken Little didn’t even hit 480p on the original Xbox if the back of the game case is any indication, but the resolution boost here makes it look crisp and modern in a way that seriously impresses. Everything is so colorful, the detail in the environment textures looks significantly better, and it feels like you can almost see the individual feathers on Chicken Little if you squint hard enough – it’s like a full on remaster! When you’re in the game’s brighter, more open areas, it’s vivid enough to bring attention to notable landmarks and highlight remarkable draw distances, which gave me a greater appreciation for the craft that went into the design of these levels and how the team was trying to make this game as authentic as possible to the source material. They couldn’t get Don Knotts to reprise his role as Mayor Turkey Lurkey and truly complete the package, but hey, you can’t win ’em all. This initial goodwill that I experienced evaporates once you’re confined to the dark, copy-pasted levels of the alien mothership, but we’ll cross that bridge soon enough.

The licensed movie tie-in game is something of a lost art. Games used to come out to market films or gain sales from people who saw the film all the time and they’d vary in quality to drastic degrees, from surprising gems like the 16-bit Aladdin games to rough, undesirable tie-ins for critical flops like Space Chimps (yes, I’ve played it to completion for some reason), Bebe’s Kids, and the 2004 Catwoman movie. This constant roulette of unpredictable quality was a pain for people looking to buy those games when they were new, but when you look back at them, it gives them a certain charm. It’s thrilling to try out a random licensed game and discover that it’s actually pretty good, or to find one that’s so amusing in its badness that you can’t help but enjoy it. Chicken Little falls in between these extremes and that’s the most unfortunate place for it to be – too dull to recommend playing, but also rarely funny enough to get an accidental kick out of. Just like the movie it’s connected to, the whole thing feels like it was made without a compelling hook or angle to really draw people in, a concept that just doesn’t sound all that appealing. It exists, it’s not the worst thing ever, but there’s really nothing all that remarkable about it beyond its mysterious Xbox Series upgrade. That sure isn’t going to stop me from thoroughly covering it though, so I hope you’re ready for this utterly whelming ride!

As a movie, Chicken Little feels torn between what it wishes to be. It wants to be the touching story of a flawed father and his quirky son learning to trust and accept each other, it constantly tries to be a funny kids movie by cramming in more dated pop culture references than a DreamWorks film, and towards the end it decides it wants to be “Jimmy Neutron but Bad”, with a plotline that shifts away from the interpersonal drama towards a story of scrappy, social outcast kids fighting back against an alien invasion. As a game, Chicken Little falls into a similar trap of confused priorities. When you start, it gives you the impression that it’s going to be a 3D platformer and to an extent it is one. The first level introduces Chicken Little’s starting moveset and drops you (literally, there’s no introductory cutscene or anything) into a relatively large area where you’re tasked with collecting coins to buy a soda. The idea is to use the soda as a makeshift jetpack to get into one of the school’s windows, which makes sense in the movie (he’s trying to avoid being seen without his pants), but here it just seems like he’s trying really hard to avoid using the front door for some reason. This, along with the absence of the movie’s inciting event (Chicken Little thinking the sky is falling and causing a false alarm amongst the townspeople) are just the first in a series of bizarre cuts and continuity changes when compared to its source material that make for a game with even less to say despite being more than twice as long.

There isn’t much complexity to controlling Chicken Little; he’s got a basic attack with his yo-yo, what is perhaps the world’s puniest double jump, and the ability to climb poles. Later on, you unlock a grappling hook-like ability and a slingshot that can be used to aim and hit switches in first person. The slingshot gets some use in combat and during the game’s final boss encounter, but it ends up making that particular fight obnoxiously painful since using the slingshot has enough of a recovery period that you’re guaranteed to get hit whenever you miss (and you will miss!). The most interesting aspects of Chicken Little‘s primary mechanics are how it handles health and difficulty options. You start off with a pool of hit points and earn more by collecting acorns scattered around. Your starting health and the amount of acorns required to heal varies based on your difficulty choice and the penalty for dying also becomes more or less severe based on that same choice. There are no lives in Chicken Little (surprisingly forward thinking for its time in that way!), but the checkpoints provided to you become increasingly scarce should you choose to play on Normal or Hard.

I wouldn’t call it a hard game overall, but it has more bite at times than you might expect – the number of tries it took me to beat the final boss is a secret I’m going to carry to my deathbed! I find myself unconvinced towards the health system despite its originality though; it just feels like an excuse to have items littering the stages in place of a more compelling reason to explore. Is it really more engaging to need ten items to heal instead of one that’s less common, or is it a way to try and hide the fact that there’s very little of interest in each stage otherwise? As if to try and alleviate this problem, collectible cards can be found in every stage that can be used to unlock multiplayer minigames. Perhaps this was a proper incentive for some people out there, but if I were to ever try and convince anyone I know to play Disney’s Chicken Little on my Xbox Series X with me, I’d probably get ribbed on for years to come!

Once you’ve gotten the soda, that’s when the mini games start rolling in. First, you’ll be flying in the air, trying to avoid obstacles as you take the long way around the long way into school. Then, you get to play some dodgeball, and after that you’ll have to run away from one of Chicken Little’s bullies Crash Bandicoot-style. You’ll get back to the platforming here and there, but the majority of levels have you doing a different thing each time. Sometimes this pays off, since the platforming stages tend to be pretty sparse and contain few moments of interest anyway, but some of the minigames are rough and unenjoyable.

Any time you have to drive a vehicle just feels terrible due to messy controls that fail to instill power or feel accurate to what’s being portrayed in the given moment. For example, some levels have you driving a car that feels far too unwieldy to take advantage of its drifting ability, leaving one to question why the option is even there. The most egregious use of the car involves a level has you driving around town and making several deliveries without any real challenge aside from the occasional time limit that’s too generous to fail. It’s like a game of Crazy Taxi without any stakes that feels designed to waste your time. The car sections may be tedious and uneventful, but the alien walker stages are just a nightmare. In one of the alien mothership levels, you have to pilot a walker that can shoot lasers and you need to get it to a certain point. The problem lies with the fact that the walker moves ridiculously slowly and you’re faced with dozens of foes and electric gates that turn on and off intermittently. These sections are lengthy, all of the aforementioned hazards can kill you pretty quickly, and healing is rare, so should you die, you’ll have to start the whole sequence over. It’s truly a frustrating level and they even make you do an extended version of it again later in the game!

Another minigame type that grates are the shoot ’em up sequences that are repeated multiple times while lacking the substance to justify the reuse. These sequences drag on for too long, feel anemic in their sound and mechanical design, and feature a very busy HUD that gets in the way of the action. These sections are at least a bit more involved than the other minigames in that you get different ships to use based on the stage in question, a few different power-ups, and you get to encounter some of the game’s very few bosses during these too. Despite my criticism towards the HUD, it is pretty cool how it has alien text sprawled across it. It adds a layer of immersion and authenticity to the proceedings since something as, well, alien as this tech shouldn’t be written in a human language. To provide further evidence of Avalanche’s thoughtfulness here, when you’re playing as Ace in the final level, his ship has a completely different HUD to appropriately match the origins of the technology. It’s clever stuff! In general though, Chicken Little ends up echoing a lot of my problems with Battletoads (both the original and the 2020 one), of all things – the only parts I enjoy are the ones where I’m doing the beat em up stuff (3D platforming in this case), but the game keeps forcing in different, undercooked methods of play that distract from its strengths.

Out of all the minigames, the baseball one deserves a special mention for both its unique implementation and how it makes a moment from the movie much more absurd. You see, Chicken Little wants to prove to his dad, a former baseball star, that he can play baseball too, so he signs up and is thrust into the big game that has everyone watching with bated breath. In the movie, everyone is expecting Chicken Little to fail and he almost does, only managing to win the game by the skin of his teeth because the opposing team was goofing off when he was at bat. In the game, Chicken Little is apparently the best baseball player alive, able to hit home runs with 100% consistency so long as the player can press buttons in time with a rendition of the classic ballpark chant (Charge!). Though the game shows an empty scoreboard, all it takes is one home run for you to win the day. As long as you understood the assignment, this is the shortest baseball game ever. A sports-themed take on playing a rhythm game is honestly a pretty novel way to tackle a baseball minigame despite how silly the outcome is, so this one deserves some points for creativity!

The game follows the plot of the movie in a general sense, but it moves at such a pace that anyone who hasn’t seen the movie is going to be confused. Scenes from the movie have been directly inserted into the game, but the ones chosen (or left out) lack any coherency. For example, Kirby, the alien child that Chicken Little and his friends are trying to return to its parents, isn’t revealed until late in the game despite it being a key part of the story introduced fairly early on, making its appearance jarring and random. Kirby’s name is never even mentioned in-game – I had to watch the movie to figure that out! To make matters worse, a ton of “filler” has been inserted to make the game several times longer than the movie, which makes things a total drag. Several levels are dedicated to menial tasks, such as moving through the alien mothership to get to another part of it, playing a minigame in order to access a control panel, or collecting Chicken Little’s baseball uniform that got scattered around town by bullies. In general, the alien mothership is by far the most obnoxious portion of the game; every level that takes place in there is reused at least once with almost exactly the same level design and it reeks of needless padding. Out of the 24 levels, 11 of them take place on the alien ship. To a degree, the reliance on the ship is understandable – it’s a perfect location for a video game to take place – but considering that the kids are only in there for a small portion of the movie, it feels strange to have so much of the game be about smashing alien machinery by the shipload when the aliens were a nearly insurmountable threat in the movie and the whole conflict was ultimately resolved through reconciling a misunderstanding and not wanton violence.

More interesting than the game itself is where it stands in the history of developer Avalanche Software. Founded by members of Sculptured Software, the company responsible for, ahem, interesting titles like Captain Novolin and Virtual Bart, Avalanche Software was acquired by Disney in 2005. As their first Disney project, Chicken Little is something of a culmination of their experience working on the Tak series, their most notable projects prior to the Disney buyout. The Tak games were 3D platformers aimed at kids that took a slower, more exploratory approach to the genre similar to things like Banjo-Kazooie. Chicken Little is very much in the same vein as Tak (when it wants to be a platformer, anyway), to the point that the double jump and attack animations are essentially identical to the ones seen in the first game, Tak and the Power of Juju. By the time the third entry, Tak and the Great Juju Challenge, came out, Avalanche had started leaning harder into adding more varied gameplay ideas into their platformers. The Great Juju Challenge has you doing all sorts of things that aren’t just platforming, including minigames, timed challenges, and puzzles involving the use of two characters, and this experience likely informed Chicken Little‘s design to some degree. While this kind of game design doesn’t age as well as a pure, concise 3D platformer does, it was the properly ambitious direction to go at the time, the slightly higher reviews for Tak and the Great Juju Challenge compared to its prequels serving as proof that it was what critics wanted. I’d love to dig deeper into the individual people who worked on this game, but for some bizarre reason, every member of Avalanche Software is credited under the company’s name with no role or title during the credits, making it impossible to say who exactly did what unless someone from the team wants to reach out to me. Not likely to happen, but I’d be pleasantly surprised if it did!

Even though Chicken Little‘s implementation of platforming, minigames and genre swaps was lacking, it did serve as the foundation for future Disney projects of higher quality. For example, Toy Story 3 emphasized 3D platforming through the use of multiple characters in its story mode, expanded upon the third person shooting, threw in even more variety like Uncharted-style setpieces, and also offered a dedicated sandbox called the Toy Box mode, in which you can play minigames, explore an open world, or just make your own fun. From there, Avalanche Software would run with those concepts even further and create Disney Infinity, which specifically took the idea of Toy Story 3‘s Toy Box mode to its conceptual peak by letting you do all sorts of elaborate activities with a huge cast of characters through purchasable toys. So while Chicken Little isn’t a particularly good game, it did lead the way to bigger and better games from Avalanche Software, which is absolutely worth something. Everybody’s got to start somewhere and sometimes it takes multiple tries to really nail a concept. It’s too bad Chicken Little didn’t make it into Disney Infinity despite his game laying down the conceptual foundation for it; talk about a thankless job!

Normally, this would be the end of the post, but I’ve got a surprise for you this time… it’s Chicken Little for the Game Boy Advance! My first two-fer post!

Disney’s Chicken Little (GBA)

  • Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M lmao)
  • Publisher: Buena Vista Games
  • Original Release Date: October 18th, 2005 (North America), December 15th, 2005 (Japan), February 10th, 2006 (Europe)
  • Available On: Game Boy Advance
  • Genre: 2D Platformer

After my experience with the console game, I came into this expecting very little, but it turns out that this game is actually decent! It helps that it was made by an entirely different developer (the incredibly, unfortunately, hilariously named A2M before their rebranding to Behaviour Interactive) and leans much harder into being a platformer than the console game does. In fact, the GBA game just so happens to fix a lot of my gripes with the console versions, making it rather refreshing after my initial dull experience. A2M has a pedigree making tight, underrated games that play well and use tried and true design choices to bolster their original ideas. If you need proof of their ability, the game’s level designer, Wesley Pincombe, went on to be a game director for multiple Assassin’s Creed titles and was the lead game designer on Watch Dogs: Legion. Ubisoft as a company is problematic for a variety of reasons, but when focusing purely on the scope of the games, that’s a pretty big glow-up for a guy whose first credit was for a Lizzie McGuire game! While they’re not well remembered by any means, games like Scaler and Wet are pretty solid for what they are and I can assure you that several games within A2M’s catalog have a shot at ending up on this blog someday.

The GBA version is also based on the plot of the movie, but it’s willing to take more liberties in more interesting ways. Right away, the first level has you exploring Chicken Little’s house in order to open the garage door. While this can also be argued to be a menial task, being able to explore his house gives hypothetical fans of the movie a chance to explore an aspect of the world that was neglected in the console game. It also serves as the perfect place to do a tutorial, since there naturally won’t be anything trying to kill Chicken Little in his own house. Here, you’ll learn Chicken Little’s moveset, which is immediately more robust than his console counterpart’s without having to wait for upgrades. You can fling your yo-yo in multiple directions, charge it up for a more powerful attack, do a spin attack, and land with a diving headbutt from the air. The control in general just feels better here too thanks to a better jump and the ability to send your yo-yo diagonally as well as straight above you.

You’ll visit all of the expected locations to reflect the general plot of the movie, but some of the approaches here make for a slightly interesting twist on the source material. Before the aliens get involved, the only enemies you encounter are paparazzi that harass Chicken Little wherever he goes. This is something even the movie doesn’t highlight much, so to see a simple but effective implementation here serve as proper world building speaks volumes to the consideration that went into it. It’s only natural that the press would be on top of Chicken Little after his initial blunder, so it makes sense that Chicken Little would see them as his primary enemy. The console game used robotic Chicken Little toys for its early-game enemies, which was just plain odd. Some of the other changes make it a better companion piece to the console game as well; for example, the baseball game isn’t a minigame this time, but is instead another platforming level. Not only does this make for a more enjoyable stretch of gameplay, it also prevents redundancy by not making it a minigame like in the console version. I don’t know how many Chicken Little diehards there are out there who bought both versions, but I’m sure they appreciated not having to repeat any minigames from their console experience.

This time around, platforming is the focus and the game benefits greatly from this focus. Levels are straightforward to clear but are full of acorns and other collectibles to find. For the most part, this game is much easier than its console counterpart, but this isn’t a strike against it; the lower difficulty here allows players to take the game at their own pace and decide how much collecting they want to do. In between levels, you can use the acorns you find to buy health upgrades for the three playable characters. If you’re struggling, you can play in a more thorough way, slowly combing stages for the acorns needed to give yourself an edge. If you’re not having any trouble, you can opt to buy other things with your acorns, such as additional characters for the minigames or alternate cars and stat upgrades for the race level. The race level sucks and is a huge pain in the ass (more on that later), so you’ll definitely want to save some for the car upgrades, but hey, it’s nice to have the option to splurge on more superficial things too, isn’t it? Items in the shop become expensive pretty fast and I can’t imagine how much grinding it would take to unlock it all. Levels typically have somewhere between 100-200 acorns and some items cost as much as 2,500 acorns!

The shot of Chicken Little they opted to use here is so funny to me for some reason

While it may seem strange that Chicken Little’s friends, Runt of the Litter and Abby, aren’t playable in this version, the game finds a way to do a lot more with the characters it does give you. Runt of the Litter was reserved purely for driving and Turbo Tunnel-esque minigame stages and Abby was essentially the same as Chicken Little with a glide instead of weaponry, so neither character really got anything to do that highlighted their personalities or abilities. Throughout the game, you’ll get opportunities to play as Chicken Little’s movie star alter ego Ace, who gets his own unique stages based on movies made up for this game. This is an interesting choice to make, seeing as how Ace is only a tiny part of the movie’s ending and is reserved purely for the final stage of the console game, but the decision is thankfully to the game’s benefit. His sections are pretty similar to Earthworm Jim, complete with the multi-directional aiming for your gun (Ace even holds his gun in a similar way), a melee attack you can use, and a beefy sprite for Ace that takes up a good part of the screen. These levels feature the most combat, present the most interesting environmental challenges, have multiple weapons for you to collect, and even offer boss fights, which are actually pretty well done and present balanced challenges that involve avoiding elaborate attacks and finding a way to bypass enemy defenses. The arena containing the first boss lets you walk up the walls, which you can then jump from to get past the boss’s shifting barrier. The second boss has you circling a floating sphere (like the fight against Raphael the Raven in Yoshi’s Island) and using it in order to shoot around the boss’s barrier. It’s also possible to temporarily transform into Ace during Chicken Little’s levels if you can find the appropriate item, but these sections are very brief and reserved purely for Ace’s ability to break walls.

The other character you get to play as is Fish Out of Water (another one of Chicken Little’s friends), and his stage is unfortunately the weakest of the lot. Your goal is to destroy all of the generator looking things in a given level while riding on a skateboard. His stages are distinct, being purely about thorough exploration instead of making it to a goal, but you simply aren’t provided the resources needed to make this a fun time. It’s possible to backtrack through the entirety of his levels, but there’s no map or way to tell if you’ve skipped any generators, so trying to find any you missed is a huge pain. Thanks to the platform the game is on, the screen is zoomed in and it’s very difficult to tell what’s coming up, making it easy to miss routes or get surprised by enemies. There’s only one of these levels thankfully, but it does make you wonder if more were planned to be implemented only to be scrapped, seeing as how it’s possible to upgrade Fish Out of Water’s health like the other characters.

This game is a mostly breezy time, but the race level has a far different experience in mind. With a control scheme similar to that of R.C. Pro-Am, you need to drive around an entire course within a very tight time limit while aliens bother you from every angle. The aliens you’ll encounter in this level are absolutely relentless and they’re designed to match your speed while they constantly pelt you with lasers. Getting hit is a setback as you’d expect, wasting precious seconds, but what’s extra annoying is that shots will randomly spin your car and make it face a random direction afterwards. Considering how strict the time limit is, a few instances of this can easily ruin your run if you drive in the wrong direction for even a few seconds. In order to succeed, you need to try and dodge as many lasers as possible, collect every speed boost on the track, avoid every environmental hazard, and optimize your run by hitting every shortcut. In a game that’s otherwise very reasonable, this level is ridiculously hard and strict to the point that I was legitimately questioning if I was going to be able to finish this game because of it. I think it might even be impossible without upgrading your car, since I wasn’t able to come close at all until I bought a couple of upgrades. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares!

Welcome to Hell

I’d also like to take a moment to mention the game’s music, since it happens to be pretty alright! The loops are far, far too short for how long the levels can be, but the music jumps between extreme energy and laid back atmosphere in a way that’s pretty interesting and sets a tone that feels improvised but effective. I honestly have no idea what kind of score best fits something like Chicken Little, but this feels like the closest thing to an ideal solution. The energetic tracks fit the action packed alien sections of the story and the slower tunes capture a bit of the slice of life, hometown drama essence that the movie should have stuck with for its entire runtime. Naturally, I had to see who was responsible for this solid work, and it turns out it was… Shin’en? As in, the team responsible for games like The Touryst and Nanostray? I think it’s safe to say that’s not what you or I expected! Upon further investigation, it turns out that A2M and Shin’en may indeed have quite a history together. Mobygames credits Shin’en for their work on “Music & Sound Driver” (the sound driver in question changes based on the platform) for several licensed games that A2M/Behaviour worked on, including Happy Feet, Kim Possible: Kimmunicator, and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Tipton Trouble. I was able to find out what these drivers are meant to do from Shin’en’s website and it’s pretty interesting stuff. For the Game Boy Advance, they employed the “GAX Sound Engine“, which allows for high quality audio to be used with minimal CPU and RAM/ROM usage. On the DS, it was called “DSX Sound Services” and it allows for high quality sound to be made quickly in a similar vein to the GAX. This still doesn’t tell us the specific person or the people that created and used these drivers and engines to compose the music unfortunately, but knowing this is better than nothing, I say. Next time you hear some surprisingly good music in a licensed game on the GBA or DS, check those credits – you just might have Shin’en to thank!

Likely because it didn’t set the world ablaze with passion and fervor, Chicken Little never saw a theatrical sequel. It did, however, see a sequel in the form of a game called Chicken Little: Ace in Action. As the name implies, it’s a new story that focuses entirely on Ace and his crew, further solidifying him as the right direction to use for the games instead of the unexciting plot of the movie. Avalanche Software returned to develop the console and PC versions, but A2M did not return for the DS version of the game. Based on the reviews I could find, it seems to be at least a slight improvement over this game, which is always nice to see. I’m not exactly dying to get to it, but if people get a lot of enjoyment out of this post, maybe I’ll see what I can do!

More Screenshots (Console Version)

More Screenshots (GBA Version)


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