Having a likeable main protagonist who you can really get behind from start to finish, no matter how difficult their circumstances become, is a vital part of any successful video game. Flyhunter Origins gave me such an experience, and after the final level was completed and the credits rolled, I found myself longing for more from the universe Steel Wool Games had created.
This feeling should not be surprising when you take into consideration the talent that Steel Wool Games had working on their debut title. Their team has over 60 years of experiences in the animation industry and their credits include work on the animated Pixar classics Brave, The Incredible, Toy Story, Monsters University and Ratatouille. These movies all have well-written characters that are instantly likeable to any audience, and the same can be said for the characters you encounter in Flyhunter Origins.
You play as Zak, a Zursk from Burgarol 3, who is a janitor aboard the legendary Flyhunter spaceship “The Frog”. In a cruel irony, it is Zaks dream to be a Flyhunter, a celebrated and highly dangerous profession which involves hunting and capturing a variety of large exotic bugs. Whilst all the legendary Flyhunters are in Cyro Sleep, an unfortunate accident sees all the exotic and important newly captured bugs jettisoned into space, where they land on planet Earth. It is up to the clumsy and bumbling Zak to swap his mop for a fly swatter and save the day.
All the characters you encounter in game are lovingly animated and ooze charisma. Even characters who don’t utter a single recognisable dialect have enough visual charm to instantly be likeable. It is a credit to the animators that during cut-scenes they have been able to craft an interesting and genuinely funny story that includes some twists along the way, accompanied by a brilliantly designed alien cast. You realise just how talented the animation team are when you realise that many of the interactions between characters are done simply through facial expressions. It reminded me of the Pixar film Wall-E, where the use of facial expression is used masterfully to express what a character is thinking and feeling.
The game plays as a typical 2.5D platformer, with various ledges to reach, dangerous liquids to avoid and structures to jump over. Steel Wool Games take full advantage of Zak and his crews small size, with each level fully taking advantage of the “Honey I shrunk the Kids” style setting. During the 21 levels in the campaign you will have a variety of environments to explore, from a garden pond, a beehive and even the inner sanctums of a space ship. No matter what the location, each one is fantastically designed, and it is easy to see that a lot of thought was put into each design. Backgrounds are filled with fascinating 3D imagery, some there for player enjoyment, others as potential dangers.
The main goal of the game is to complete each “Episode” and recapture all of the big bugs that “escaped” from your ship. Throughout each level you will face a variety of smaller critters to swat, from spiders to ants, and each one is well design and has their own unique weak spots and dangers to be wary of. Of course, with such dangerous bugs out to have you for supper, you are equipped with the latest and greatest in Fly Swapping technology to protect yourself. Your two main pieces of kit are a swatter and ray gun. Depending on the size of the insect, it may just be a few swipes of the swatter to squish the enemy, or it might take a zap of the ray gun to temporary freeze the enemy and then a well time swat. Both weapons are fun to use and killing a particularly troublesome enemy is extremely satisfying.
Both these weapons can be upgraded using bug eggs which are collected throughout each level. Although the idea of upgrading and bettering your equipment is a good one, there is limited depth to it, and if you are a particular good scavenger you can potentially unlock the most powerful swatter and gun as early as level two. This is a shame, as it makes revisiting levels to find the eggs you missed basically pointless. There are secrets you can find in hidden locations in each level, but these simply unlock new outfits for Zak. Although they may make our hero look a bit smarter, it is barely a good incentive for replaying each level.
Although Flyhunter Origins is well designed, and a joy to look at, the game is filled with more than just the typical insect bug. At various points during my playthrough I found the game would begin to lag, and cause death by it freezing for a few seconds near an enemy which would be able to kill me without any resistance. This was particularly noticeable before battling larger insects. Another instance is during various jump sequences throughout the game, that demands precise accuracy in where I landed. The games almost unstable nature made it increasingly difficult to land in the correct position. Luckily the forgiving respawn system did compensate for moments of severe lag. In general I found the game to be on the clunky side, and very rarely did it run completely smoothly. It should be noted though, that even though many deaths were incurred by the choppy performance, I was constantly drawn back in by its design and lovable characters.
I am a big fan of the platformer genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the characters and story created by Steel Wool Games. Every level is filled with creative design choices, and I found myself wanting to continue on just to see what lay in store in the next level. But ultimately Flyhunter Origins is a fun game that is unfortunately held back by clunky performance issues. The finished product feels like the team, filled with creative minds, put so much emphasis on characters and visual design, that creating a technically sound finished product was left as an afterthought.
Perhaps these issues can be addressed in an upcoming update, but in its current state, its feels like a missed opportunity at creating a truly great platformer. Steel Wool Games have created a brilliant universe with fantastic characters and I really hope that this isn’t the last we hear of Zak and his crew.