When you first boot up Blazing Beaks’ Story mode, you’ll be offered a Normal game or a delicious seeded run. The general gameplay for either is pretty standard, though, featuring the usual coins, keys, secret rooms, and array of weapons that you’d expect from a rogue-lite dungeon crawler. There are a few quirks about Blazing Beaks that keep it fresh, however. For starters, each floor is one big room, so there’s no backtracking allowed. You also have the chance to skip a boss door and take a different exit, though you’ll eventually have to defeat each boss to progress.
The most notable feature of Blazing Beaks is its artefacts, though, which function like curses, afflicting the player with nasty debuffs. Once you reach the merchant, you can trade these in for some helpful items, providing a devilishly enticing sense of risk and reward. I appreciated that the risk level is shown for each artefact, which dictates how many items you’ll get in return so you’re never left guessing whether the risk is worth taking. It lets you make decisions… on the fly. (Okay, I’ll stop with the puns... for now!)
Each playable character is a different, adorably drawn pixel-art avian, with their own unique strengths, weapons, and weaknesses. The duck has the most HP, but a short-range weapon that means you’re in harm’s way more often. Meanwhile, the chicken is essentially a sniper, capable of shooting further but being wildly inaccurate if you don’t remain stationary. This provides further variation between runs, and means everyone can find something that suits them when playing the multiplayer Tournament mode.
Right off the bat, you have five available characters, with another three to unlock by progressing through the story. I use the term ‘story’ loosely, because Blazing Beaks doesn’t really have a narrative, that’s just the name given to the primary single-player mode. Having said this, there’s one particularly charming moment just before the credits roll, and you do have the option to play Story mode in 2-player co-op, if you’d like. This is the best way to play, in my opinion, as Blazing Beaks has a few shortcomings that makes the game frustrating to play alone.
Firstly, the guns all feel pretty weak until you get to the later floors of the dungeon. There are a few standouts like the railgun, or the shotgun if you’re reckless and daring, but the majority fire too slowly and do too little damage to feel rewarding. Couple this with some frustrating enemy designs and the fact that you’re never more than 2 or 3 hits away from being deep-fried dinner, and the early levels can become a slog to repeat. Some form of progression to carry between runs - such as Dead Cells or Mana Spark employ with their cells and runes - would have been greatly appreciated.
Tournament mode transforms the feathery fun into a party game, functioning much like the multiplayer mayhem of titles such as Towerfall, or the recently released - and similarly themed - Duck Game. Considering how substantial the rogue-lite Story mode is, the variety of options available in Tournament mode is impressive. There are five battle modes to choose from, which all function differently enough to remain interesting. You can also set it to a randomised rotation if you really want to get into the party mood. Honestly, if this mode was released on its own, I’m sure it would fare extremely well on the eShop.
Unfortunately, this mixed focus may well prevent Blazing Beaks from having the storming popularity that it deserves. It has two very distinct, very enjoyable modes, but doesn’t fully commit to either. People looking for a robust single-player twin-stick shooter, a la Enter the Gungeon, will likely be left wanting more due to the lack of a structured progression system or ability to backtrack. Equally, party game enthusiasts may have no interest in the rogue-lite section of the game, leaving them with only a subset of the potential fun thanks to unlocks being tied to the Story mode.
This is perhaps a fault in the game’s marketing, too, as the eShop trailer doesn’t showcase the multiplayer aspect at all. I fear this will lead many to overlook what could be the next big hit on game night. To be absolutely clear, I’m not faulting Blazing Beaks for including too much, just highlighting that not everyone will get the full enjoyment from it’s distinctly varied modes - or even understand the depth of what’s on offer, at a glance.
Regardless which mode you’re playing, Blazing Beaks radiates a light-hearted, silly theme. From the quacking sounds featured in its soundtrack, to the traditional dodge roll being replaced by a belly slide, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Seeing the adorable birds sliding on their fronts is basically the most endearing thing ever, by the way, in an art style that is already pretty cutesy.
Though Blazing Beaks is also available for PC users, Switch players get a special launch discount, courtesy of the publishers. For the first 3 weeks of release, Blazing Beaks is half price if you own some of QubicGames’ other digital releases, including Unit 4, Mana Spark, or BRAWL. This is well aimed at consumers who’ve purchased similar games in the past, as Blazing Beaks blows QubicGames’ previous eShop titles clean out of the water, doubly so at 50% off.