Who’s That Flying?! – The PS3 Attitude Review
Earth has been invaded by a horde of doom beasts, and its guardian, the Guardian of Earth, has been summoned by the Intergalactic Council to explain how this could have happened on his watch. The council, made up of Guardians from around the solar system (including the Guardian of Uranus – joke intended), doesn’t appreciate the Guardian of Earth’s cockiness, nor his penchant for appearing on the front cover of magazines. Intergalactic prison appears to be the likely destination for our outlandish hero.
As is the case with Call of Duty: Black Ops, the story in Who’s That Flying is told using a frame narrative technique. The lead character in both these games gets interrogated and the information which they share make up the levels that you play – however, that’s about where the similarities between these two games end.
Basically, you live out the Guardian of Earth’s interpretation of events, where he defeats hundreds of doom beasts, some of which are massive, and you’re responsible for restoring his awesome reputation. The main story travels across five distinctive locations: New York, Tokyo, Mexico and Moscow… and somewhere completely different. Each location is broken down into three levels, the last level end with a boss fight.
Who’s That Flying is the latest game from Mediatonic, the guys behind Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. After reading those initial paragraphs, it may surprise you to find out that this is a PlayStation mini. Yes, we have made the game sound big, but that’s because it is. It’s not the size of Uncharted 2, admittedly, but Mediatonic are certainly raising the bar for what we should be expecting from a mini.
Who’s That Flying has a complete story, told through some nicely animated cutscenes. They’re snappy, to the point (they have to be due to the size restrictions) and the focus is on humour. It’s mostly an immature, quirky kind of humour, with lots of posterior jokes, but it’s genuinely entertaining. The colourful cartoon/comic book presentation is very appealing to the eye as well.
The story is cleverly told in a way that gets maximum impact with minimum attention required from the gamer. Part of the way they do this is through the unlocks. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock artwork and newspaper clippings, and these will give you an insight into the characters and flesh out the story some more. Also, the name “Guardian of Earth” is more than just a generic superhero title: “It helps explain the core concept of the game right from the start”, says Jim Griffith, writer and producer on the game.
That’s all very well, but the most important thing about a mini (or any game, actually) is how it plays. Thankfully, guarding the Earth is every bit as fun as it should be. Who’s That Flying is part side-scrolling shooter and part tower defence. We know that sounds like an odd mixture; let us explain this a little further.
The side-scrolling aspect is straight-forward: enemies appear on your screen and you shoot them. However, unlike most side-scrollers, you cannot be hurt. Like all proper superheroes, the Guardian of Earth is invincible – but the city is not. So you cannot afford to let the doom beats get past you; hence the tower defence aspect.
You are allowed at maximum of 49 ravagers to get past. The ravagers are small, black, snot-like creatures, who cannot harm you and can be easily destroyed by one laser fire. The Guardian of Earth can also rip them apart with his bare hands just by flying into them; nice. The ravagers attack in different patterns and at different speeds – they always keep you guessing – and they are the only ones you have to worry about getting past you.
We like to call the other 16 enemy types “nuisance beasts”. Their primary role is to do just that: be a nuisance. They get in your way, stun you with their green-blob attacks and they will guard the ravagers. If ravagers are getting past you while you’re being distracted by the big one-eyed snakes (joke not intended) then they are doing their jobs. The bigger the enemy the stronger its defence is, you’ll need to fire at it for longer. Alternatively, you can for the most part ignore these enemy types and focus entirely on the ravagers, but you won’t get a high score this way. High scores are central to the gameplay. You are expected to replay levels and try for a gold medal.
Because the studio has implemented a very satisfying accumulator system, it’s a joy to return to the levels. There are nine stages to the accumulator. It builds as you kill enemies, and quick kills appear to raise the bar faster. As it rises you become more powerful and special moves become available – these vary from rapid fire to the deadly hyper-beam. When you’re accumulator is at maximum, you’ll be rolling in the points and the bar will read “awesome”. You feel awesome. Yet, if one ravager gets past you, your accumulator will be reset to zero again. It is entirely possible to play very well on a level and have a poor score because you allowed one ravager to get past you at the wrong time. Rather than frustrating us though, we went back for more.
Aside from the 15 story missions, there are 24 challenge levels and four levels on infinite mode. Infinite is basically a test of endurance, and the challenge modes are as they sound: a selection of challenges where the objectives differ from normal. There are puzzle challenges, for example; for these you cannot let one enemy get past you. Due to the speed of which they come at you, you have to think carefully about how you approach these puzzles. There may only be one way to succeed. So between all this, and all the unlocks, there is a lot of content here to stick your teeth into. It could easily satisfy you for a few days, if not for longer. It certainly has a more lasting appeal than most minis.
As well as being an enjoyable game to play – due to its fast, fluid and precise gameplay – it’s also a wonderful game to view. (look at the screenshot, above.) It’s colourful, vibrant and crisp. Every location looks different from the last. The deep purple landscape of Tokyo contrasts wonderfully with sandy tones of Mexico.The fantastic animations bring the game to live further. There are lots of nice and subtle touches, like the way the Guardian shifts to fire his hyper-beam attack and the way an orange/yellow trail is left behind as our hero moves. We’re particularly fond of the way he rips apart a ravager with his bare hands. They also created a nice sense of scale for the boss battles. The camera zooms out to make the bosses look huge and the Guardian of Earth small in comparison.
We only had a few problems with the game. We got trapped in the top-right corner of the screen a few times when the larger horned-beasts retreated, and there was nothing was could do to free ourselves. That was frustrating, but thankfully moments like that were rare. The boss battles were a little disappointing as well. They had a great sense of scale but they lacked intensity. Perhaps smaller but more dynamic bosses would have been a better approach.
Nevertheless, we’d rather not grumble too much. For £3.99/$5.99, the studio is giving a lot of content for such a small price, and it is a delight to play. We highly recommend all PSP owners to get Who’s That Flying because it’s perfect on the go. PS3 owners may want to be more cautious because the artwork doesn’t look as delightful on a 32″ television, as is the case with all the minis. It may also struggle to shift Black Ops out your disc-tray. However, you shouldn’t completely rule it out.
Mediatonic are a great indie studio with a bright future (read our recent studio profile here) and they deserver the recognition for their work.