Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fly'N

The Title Screen

Introduction
Fly'N is an indie platformer with mild puzzle elements, by developer Ankama Studio. Released in 2012, as a PC exclusive featuring a singleplayer campaign only. Player performance is logged on online leaderboards. It was brought to market by the Steam Greenlight program.


The First Thing
My first thoughts were of interest and total confusion. The aesthetic of the game is very inviting with its strong art style and vibrant music/sound effects. but I had no idea what the hell was going on. The 'wordless' style of conveying information is not very effective and I was essentially completely clueless even after a couple of hours of playing.


Plot & Devices
This is taken from the official description on the Steam Store page: "They are the guardians of the World-Trees: the Buds…Save the World-Trees from Dyer, the loony hair-dryer who intends to destroy their Helys!". I had to look this up because I literally had no idea what the plot of this game was whilst playing. I could deduce certain elements, like how the hair-dryer-mouse creature was the 'bad guy'. But I had no idea what the playable creatures were called, or the motivation of the hair-dryer-mouse.

The Blue Bud

The gameplay seems to suggest there is only one playable character, but the brief pre-rendered cinematics in between zones suggest otherwise. There are short in-game cutscenes at the start of levels featuring the antagonist, but other than that there is no character interaction of any sort. I am still not 100% sure what Helys are, which is why I will write them as "Helys(?)". I believe they are the bright floating blue balls/bubbles. It should be noted that I feel this minimalist approach to storytelling is entirely deliberate and not some sort of developer negligence.


The Game
In most respects Fly'N fits the standard 2D, side-scrolling platforming formula. The different Buds share general abilities but with one special ability unique to each one. Buds can run, jump, double-jump and glide and these will be used plenty. The special abilities are as follows:

■ Blue can sing. This is used to inject/extract Helys(?) from objects to activate or change their status in some way. It also uncovers special hidden creatures in each level.
Green can stick to any and move along any non-damaging surface.
Black can become an invulnerable bouncy-ball, who's first bounce will be higher than consecutive bounces. This ball can destroy some rocks.
Orange can pause in mid-air, and zoom in a player chosen direction. It can do this three times before needing to return to ground and can destroy some blocks it passes through.

These special abilities are used to complete most challenges the player will encounter. New Buds will become available as the player progresses and in later levels the player can expect to alternate between them. It is only possible to swap between Buds at fixed respawn boxes and only to the colours that the level dictates. The available colours the player can swap to at these points should be considered part of the puzzle.

Three different Buds (Green, Black & Blue) using their special ability

The respawn boxes serve many purposes. As mentioned they can allow the changing of Bud colour, but they also mark where the player respawns upon death. There is no 'life' system and Buds can unlimitedly respawn; although the total number of deaths will be noted in the level summary and affects leaderboard ranking. Respawning will also cause some elements of the level to reset, such as destructible blocks or rising waves of death. The player can respawn to the most recent respawn point at will, which is important in the challenge levels where a single death alters the outcome. Adversarial creatures generally do not exist and the player will be mostly killed by harmful environment.

The game is split into four zones, with eight levels in each. Each zone is associated with a Bud colour, influencing most of the types of puzzles encountered. The second, fourth and sixth level are 'challenge' levels where the player must climb against a lethal rising wave. Reaching the end of the without dying then will award bonus Helys(?). It will also unlock a bonus level that is separate from the story and is usually a quirky, challenging platforming experience. Using the respawn teleport does not count as a 'death', so is very useful here. The final level of each zone consists of a boss fight, followed by mobile platform challenges designed for the Bud of that Zone.

A 'Cocoon' which acts as a base of operations where the player can choose to replay a particular level, bonus level or change zone; it is basically just an interactive menu. There is artwork available for purchase from any additional Helys(?) and viewed.

The final big game mechanic shared between all Buds is the ability to move between two realities/worlds: shadow and light (This is my interpretation of this mechanic as the game does not explain). Solid environment in one reality may not exist in the other and the player will use this to navigate many challenges. Sometimes more complex objects such as moving platforms will be encountered and the player will find themselves frequently changing realities mid-jump/glide. Moving between realities is instantaneous and is signified by a change in colour scheme and background music. Air streams that can only be used in the shadow reality exist and these will transport the Bud elsewhere in the level.

Moving between two realities

As with most platformers, I played with my gamepad, but since this is a PC exclusive I was curious at the Mouse and Keyboard implementation. I found it quite acceptable when I tested, although I still think digital controls are not as suited to platformers, but these are well implemented. Most of the time the gamepad controls felt adequate but occasionally not as tight as I would like.

The art style is striking and vibrant, helping to offset the slightly low graphical fidelity. It ran at a smooth 60FPS from start to finish. Personally, I found the art style a little overwhelming at times but the layout of the level and objects was always clear. The soundtrack and effects are nice and suitable, but are not particularly memorable.


Wrap Up & Negatives
The biggest negative has to be how clueless I felt at the start. I'm an experienced gamer, but still it took me a long time to work out some things; like the glowing orbs (Helys?) and their use with the singing power. Or the cocoon. The little picture pop-ups do help, but are essentially just button prompts. Quite a few elements of the game were learned by trial and error. And it felt a little bewildering.

What is this? What does it do? Is it important...?

I still had no solid idea what the story was until I started researching for this review. I do not think that "indie title" is really an acceptable reason because many story driven indie games exist. I wouldn't have minded a total absence of story (like with Q.U.B.E), the problem here is the constant allusion to plot/characters that is never explained.

Most of the time the controls are good, but occasionally do not feel tight. Using the Green Bud's wall climbing and jumping often felt a little clunky. The graphics do not feel particularly well-scaled up to a 1920x1080 resolution with outlines looking a bit 'over-sharpened', but honestly this did not bother me too much. I just find it a little odd as this is a PC exclusive and my resolution is not uncommon.

It also uses a single save file. Once you start, that's it. I don't know if this is really a negative and will be up to the preference of the individual gamer.


Personally
I think Fly'N is a very technically proficient title and a fairly enjoyable game. I liked the 'two realities' and the related platforming challenges, combined with the different Buds and how their special abilities interact. But I do question some aspects, particularly with regard to the introductory experience. I can easily envisage a new player losing interest; which would be a shame. A purely visual conveyance of ideas is a difficult developmental path to take, and just perhaps a bit of simple and obvious text is not a bad thing.

If you like platformers, then this is a decent one. And I would say this is better than the average indie platformer currently overwhelming the market. Just be prepared for the possibility of maybe not fully understanding everything right away. But once I got a handle on things, I enjoyed it. Good looking, good mechanics and worth trying.



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