Saturday, January 8, 2011

Flash in the Night

I like Flash games. I think it's because of the limitations of the platform. As a multimedia platform, games made in Flash tend to be gorgeous, of course, but they cannot be very massive, content-wise. This shortens average playtime - appealing to the casual gamer in me - but it also means that content creators have to think a bit about what to put in. A similar situation existed in the eighties with its profusion of 8-bit microcomps, and the results were the same: the best games were good games, not just mindblowing multimedia presentations.

A case in point is a fun little action game I discovered recently. Space Bounty is... a shooting platformer, I suppose. The protagonist is a Hot Chick With a Big Gun (honestly - would you trust a mercenary whose idea of practical combat wear is a pair of knickers and lots of PVC?) who has to run, jump and shoot her way through four missions comprised of enemy-infested one-screen rooms with tougher end-of-level bosses. Ho hum, right?
The presentation, however, is spot on. The actors look like they've been prerendered with detailed 3D models, and are animated beautifully. (There are even imaginative touches like the heroine's dying animation that has her falling off the platform and off screen.) The difficulty has been nailed well. There are three difficulty levels, and while they only affect the damage done and taken by the enemies, even an experienced player has to work to make it through the hardest levels. More importantly, the protagonist feels powerful - the basic gun is enough for most threats, but sometimes you breathe more easily with an ion bullet in the chamber - but heedlessly charging ahead will only get you swarmed and brought down.
The controls are workable (though I found myself using more than one health pack inadvertently thanks to the hotkey being right next to the WASD movement keys), but could be better. Especially the double-tap to jump down from a platform caused trouble - I sometimes managed to kill myself by jumping down, and off the screen, when attempting to crouch on the lowest level (then again, a successful save by mid-air jump made me feel like a ninja). But experience can make up for the shortcomings, and most of the time, death is caused by bad timing, not control problems.
The end-of-level bosses deserve a special mention. They're basically variations on a single theme - pattern recognition and timing - but at least they're not simply bigger and tougher versions of regular enemies. They're brought down by observation and thinking, not (just) firepower.
I'd recommend Space Bounty to anyone not severely allergic to 2D platformers. The four missions offer two nights of high-octane entertainment at most, but at least I found myself returning for "one more playthrough".
Of course, the vast majority of Flash games are crap - there's nothing special about them in that regard; but there are gems in the pile, like this one, that make the dig worthwhile. I think I'll be writing more about those in the future.

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