This is the thirty-eighth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. This particular entry in the Scratching That Itch series is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series, which discusses games and their soundtracks. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Once more, the random number generators have spun up and spat out a selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. It’s Purple Chicken Spaceman, by Holmade Games. Included in the download is the Purple Chicken Soundtrack, which means this post is also an honorary Keeping Score post. Purple Chicken Spaceman’s tagline in the bundle reads:
Are you chicken enough?
Oh, I’m pretty sure I’m chicken enough.
Purple Chicken Spaceman is a shoot ’em up game, also known as a “shmup”, the second such game to appear in Scratching That Itch. When writing about the first, Zenodyne R, I also wrote a bit about the genre, so I won’t repeat that here. Suffice it to say that Purple Chicken Spaceman avoids the breakneck pace of Zenodyne R and many similar games in favor of a slower and friendlier experience. Scrolling sideways instead of vertically, players take control of the titular purple chicken spaceman, who grabbed his fishbowl space helmet and flew out into space when he saw that aliens were invading Earth. He must fly around, shooting down UFOs and other nefarious foes by spitting blue speckled eggs at them. As the singer exclaims in the theme song (more on that later), “I knew you were no ordinary purple chicken!”
Purple Chicken Spaceman leans heavily into its cartoony style, and it seems at least partially pitched at younger kids, or at least as a game that can be played with the family. It’s unashamedly silly and all the better for it. Any sense of logic that the initial UFOs and rocket ships might suggest is thrown out the window when the first boss is revealed to be a giant cat with laser eye beams and rocket paws. From there, players can choose different stages to tackle with wildly varying themes. Our spacefaring hero might face the watery domain of Neptune’s Crypt, or the haunted Goosebump Gorge, or perhaps the dangerous confections prowling through the Desert of Desserts. Each area features its own set of enemies to battle, but it’s quickly apparent that they share the same behaviors despite having a different appearance. The stages aren’t fixed, instead the boss will appear once players have defeated a set number of enemies, displayed in the top right corner of the screen. This means the stages themselves aren’t that exciting to play through, but they also go by quickly, with enough time to chuckle at the ridiculous enemies but not so much that they get tiresome. The big bosses are the clear highlights, and players will spend most of their time battling them.
Purple Chicken Spaceman doesn’t feel very slick or polished, with its simple animations and lack of fancy graphical effects, but its fundamentals are actually pretty solid. Enemy movement and bullet patterns are nowhere near as crazy as those in Zenodyne R or its ilk, but given the heroic chicken’s relatively large hitbox and slow movement speed, they can still present a challenge. Fortunately our purple protagonist can pick up powerups to help, including shields that grant temporary invincibility, bombs that destroy all enemies and bullets on the screen, and extra health which lets the chicken weather a hit and keep fighting. Watch out for the one that reverses movement controls, though, as it is usually a death sentence. Carefully watching the powerup eggs and shooting them at the right time to release the desired powerup is critical. But even if our feathered friend falls, players can resume from the same stage, there are no “limited continues” like in many shmups. It’s even possible to quit the game and resume from the same stage in a future session. Battling enemies feels methodical rather than frantic, and even shooting is a relatively slow process.
This was one source of annoyance, actually. There are keyboard control options (gamepads are also supported) for left-handed or right-handed movement, but they are not rebindable, and my preferred right-handed controls unfortunately use the spacebar for shooting. It can’t be held down, it must be pressed for each shot, and the spacebar is a particularly uncomfortable key to mash. There’s a reason that Z became the standard fire key for most shmups. Shooting often felt unresponsive, sometimes firing many eggs rapidly in a burst and other times spitting them out at a much slower rate. I suspect there can only be a certain number of eggs on the screen at once, with more shots only allowed after existing eggs hit a target, but I was never able to determine this for certain. Mashing the spacebar got me through, but it felt awkward.
But I didn’t mind this too much in the end. Purple Chicken Spaceman is short enough that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, even counting its surprisingly difficult final stage, and sometimes a lighthearted and silly game is exactly what one needs. Younger players will likely get a kick out of it too, and may find it takes more time to best its challenges. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $4, and the Purple Chicken Soundtrack is included too (and available for free separately). Which brings me to…
The Purple Chicken Soundtrack includes about 25 minutes of music, with contributions from several different artists. Parry Gripp, whose credits include music for a range of children’s television programming, offers three bouncy synth-pop style tracks, including the game’s main theme which plays during the first stage (an instrumental version is included as well, playing during menus, so technically there are four tracks from Parry Grip). This theme features vocals that narrate the absurd premise of the game, so players will hear about how the purple chicken is flying through space while they are doing just that. Parry Grip’s other tracks, for the Goosebump Gorge and Desert of Desserts stages, are similarly constructed, espousing the dangers of each stage in the lyrics to accompany the action onscreen. These songs are silly fun, and I would have found them hilarious as a kid, so I expect younger players will especially enjoy them.
The rest of the soundtrack consists of instrumental pieces. Trackmanbeatz provides backing music to three more stages, all of which I think are original compositions written for the game. “80’s Vibe” is sort of halfway between a synthwave track and a more traditional orchestrated score full of synthesized strings. “Vibing Loose” feels a bit more like a classic game soundtrack composition using simple retro synth sounds, but my favorite is “Broken Keyboard”, a driving house track that accompanies the final stage. Two more stages feature music from Kevin MacLeod, who composes a large amount of royalty-free music that can be used through a Creative Commons license. He does also do commissions, but I suspect that Holmade Games simply licensed some of his existing compositions for use in the game. The two pieces are wildly different in style: “Volatile Reaction” is an ominous track dominated by a big brass section, which might easily fit in any climactic scene in films or games, but “Who Likes To Party” is a bona fide electro-funk jam, complete with Nile Rodgers-esque rythm guitar and a fat synth bass line. It even has classic ’80s synth horns. Given my love of funk, this is the highlight track in my book.
The song “Blackout Romeo” by The Spin Wires, off of their self-titled 2017 EP, accompanies one of the later stages. The Spin Wires describe themselves as a Punk / Dance Rock band, but this song sounds more like the latter to me. The vocal style is reminiscent of ’80s pop, but the music is guitar-driven with some synth horns (and real horns!) for good measure. But its modern pop production and composition style would not be mistaken for an ’80s song. Rounding out the soundtrack are two pieces from Joth Composition, used during the brief opening story sequence and on the stage select map. The first of these is very close to, if not quite, a chiptune track, while the other pairs higher fidelity synth pad ambience with a driving beat to make something more akin to a deep house track. These are both short pieces designed to be looped, making for a rather abrupt ending when listening to the soundtrack all at once, but I like them both nonetheless.
Overall, the soundtrack is a big part of Purple Chicken Spaceman’s appeal, and it’s very generously offered for free, even for those who don’t own the game. Worth a listen!
That’s 38 down, and only 1703 to go!