Renegade Kid, the developer founded by Jools Watsham and Gregg Hargrove, had a knack for filling in some pretty sizable holes in the 3DS library. Back in 2012, Mutant Mudds was the eShop’s first killer app: both a challenging faux-retro platformer, and a compelling argument for playing with the 3D cranked all the way up. In 2014, the episodic FPS Moon Chronicles edged its way onto a system that was chock-full of everything but shooters, while Xeodrifter would prove to be a modern classic, a loving riff on Metroid II that launched nearly three years before Nintendo’s own return trip to SR388.
Fast forward to August 2017. It’s been a year since Renegade Kid formally closed up shop, but Watsham has soldiered on with Atooi, a new dev studio focused solely on retro-inspired adventures. After a couple forays into the free-to-play mobile arena, Watsham’s finally returned to the 3DS with Chicken Wiggle, a platforming game/level-design tool that seeks to address the one major shortcoming of Nintendo’s handheld version of Super Mario Maker: the complete lack of online sharing features for user-created levels. And although the package is a bit lacking in some regards, there’s something that feels so right about playing a new Jools Watsham game on 3DS.
As a standalone platformer, Chicken Wiggle is as tight as anything from Renegade Kid: controls are precise and responsive, and a new grappling hook mechanic and fun selection of power-ups makes it feel distinct from the Mutant Mudds games. But compared to that series, its 48-level story mode feels somewhat hollow; level design is as strong as ever (especially with levels built around the new power-ups), but replayability has been dialed down a notch by a surprising lack of purpose behind the collectibles scattered across each level. Yes, there’s still that satisfying ‘plink’ sound when collecting diamonds, and figuring out how to reach the F-U-N letters hidden in out of the way nooks and crannies provides a compulsive draw for completionists. But there’s no tangible reward for doing so, and no way to track completion between levels—collection progress is reset every time you re-enter a level.
It’s a surprising departure from what we’ve come to expect from Watsham, but at the same time, perhaps it’s unfair to compare Chicken Wiggle to Renegade Kid’s earlier retro-style platformers. Because while there are definitely some fantastic levels included in Chicken Wiggles’ story mode (not to mention the best boss battle in any of Watsham’s 2D games), these levels aren’t meant to be replayed endlessly. Rather, they exist solely to teach players how to use the game’s various power-ups, platforming gimmicks, and enemy types to create their own unique levels in the game’s built-in level editor and online sharing platform. And man, are there are a lot of tricks to learn, from extendable platforms, to switch blocks, springs, spikes, and locked doors, to running shoes for clearing long jumps, a mask for flying, a jet pack for double-jumps, and even a special hat that lets players deform the landscape around them.
Curiously, there’s no textual information for using any of these tools (nor reminders in the level editor about what purpose they all serve), so playing through the story mode becomes imperative for designers looking to get the most out of the level editor. Even then, digging into the editor can often feel like an exercise in trial and error while you get used to all of the options. Once you get the hang of it, though, it becomes old hat. Still, someone ought to build a wiki for this thing, because it can be overwhelming.
Once you’re ready to share your level—or try out some of the user-generated ones that are already out there—it couldn’t get any easier. Players can search levels by tags or level ID (useful if you want friends to know how to find your levels), or they can be sorted by upload date, popularity, and more. There are even categories for official Atooi-created levels and Atooi “favorites,” and it’s great to see Watsham and Chicken Wiggle users being inspired by each other’s creations, playing off each other and coming up with new levels that are just as good—and in many cases, even better—than what’s included in the story mode. There are, of course, some masochistic creations out there, and I’ll never understand the motivations of amateur game designers who prioritize player punishment over fun factor. Thankfully, users aren’t allowed to upload levels that can’t be beaten, so at least there’s nothing broken out there.
Jools Watsham’s games have been synonymous with the 3DS almost from the beginning, so it’s great to see the developer carrying forward with the system despite its age. At the same time, the financial realities of developing solely for the 3DS have become obvious, and as much as I’d love to see Treasurenauts eventually released on what is my all-time favorite handheld, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicken Wiggle ended up being Watsham’s final sendoff for the system. And if that truly ends up being the case, what a way to go out: a potentially endless supply of platforming fun that, in the most important way, manages to beat Nintendo at its own game. Modern mojo, indeed.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Chicken Wiggle is based on final review code provided to us by Atooi. The game launched on the 3DS eShop on Thursday, August 17th, 2017, with an iOS release date planned for the near future.