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Who’s That Flying?

21:1730/11/2010Posted by Simeon PaskellNo Comments

Thirty-two years after the release of Space Invaders, it is something of a marvel that shoot ‘em ups are still managing to throw new concepts at gamers – the well should be dry by now with every permutation explored, but titles such as the rather cheekily named PlayStation mini Who’s That Flying? keep popping up. Developer Mediatonic has taken the crisp simplicity of the shoot ‘em up, mixed in an equally crisp and simple twist and concocted an experience that adds yet another string to the genres bow.

Playing as an Ultraman lookalike known only as the “Guardian of Earth”, Who’s That Flying? initially looks like a rather barebones – if charming – shooter. Flying from left to right you weave around the screen blasting away at amorphous, teeth-gnashing blobs (known as Doom Beasts), chaining shots, unleashing special attacks and watching your high score rise. So far, so ordinary then. The twist comes when you realise that the Guardian of Earth is in fact invincible with no energy gauge of his own; being shot slows you down and prevents you firing for a time, but there is no risk of actually dying. The cities over which you fly are far from invincible though, and take damage if any of the smaller Doom Beasts manage get past you and exit to the left of the screen. In a nod to tower defence titles, let too many get past, and its game over.

On paper, this might sound like a trifling alteration to a well established formula, but in practice it is anything of the sort. The genius comes in Mediatonic’s decision to make only the smallest Doom Beasts a threat to the cities welfare. In shoot ‘em ups it is usually advisable to take out larger foes as a matter of priority, but here the sole purpose of the larger enemies’ is to slow you down and help shepherd their smaller siblings to their target. Elevating the cannon-fodder to such a key role creates a very interesting tension, as you attempt to manage the number of small Doom Beasts while whittling away the body guards that surround them.

Production wise, Mediatonic have crafted a good looking and humorous game with charismatic cartoon visuals and a surprisingly engaging plot. The latter actually shares much in common with the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops. Like that game’s lead (Alex Mason) the Guardian of Earth finds himself under interrogation (in this case, by eight other super beings, each representing a different planet of our solar system) and forced to recount a series of events to prove his worthiness for his titular role. The cutscenes that cover these events are surprisingly well scripted, even managing to make a Uranus/butt joke without it feeling like barrel scraping.

Unfortunately, despite the glossy production and interesting ideas, the game can feel a little repetitive at times, with levels offering plenty of length but minimal variety. This is alleviated to some extent by nicely designed boss characters (events that see the camera pan right back to reduce a hero to a near spec while impressively large foes saunter into view) but there’s only so much mileage you can get from varying the formations and movement patterns of basic foes. In fairness, new foes – with new characteristics – are steadily drip fed into the game (horned blobs that charge you, for example) but the on-screen action could still do with being a little more dynamic at times.

In spite of this, Mediatonic’s achievements here should not be sniffed at; in Who’s That Flying? the developer has created an entertaining, low cost romp that set’s up both an interesting game mechanic and a cast of characters that are more than worthy of being explored further. There is also plenty of game here for the £3.99 entrance fee, with a score multiplier system to appeal to score-hunters, unlockable extras and Infinite and Challenge modes. Ultimately, Who’s That Flying? is a spirited, enjoyable and interesting release that, while not quite managing to mine its central concept to its fullest, is nevertheless worthy of a place in your collection.

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