System: PS Vita [reviewed], Steam, Android, iOS
Genre: 2D Platformer
Developer: Steel Wool Games
Release Date: December 9, 2014
Flyhunter Origins is a family-friendly platformer that has a bit of an interesting pedigree behind it. The game’s developer, Steel Wool Games, is led by a quintet of Pixar veterans, and their animation background is definitely an asset. Their talent is on display during the game’s aesthetically-pleasing cutscenes, and these moments send the game off to a promising start. It’s a shame that these positive impressions start crumbling down as soon as the gameplay kicks in.
At first glance, Flyhunter Origins appears to be a perfectly adequate side-scroller. Its goofy premise — in which you play an alien janitor who must recover insects back on planet Earth — should appeal to children, and it does have a certain kind of offbeat charm to it. The platforming action is simple and easy to pick up and play, as most of the action revolves around moving left-to-right and jumping around to pick up items. There are enemies wandering about (including mosquitos, frogs, and various bugs), but most aren’t too difficult to either destroy with your fly swatter or sneak past, depending on your preference. If you die, there are a handful of checkpoints scattered throughout each level that allow you to respawn.
Unfortunately, the level designs are rudimentary in appearance, and there is little to differentiate them from each other. There are basically two backgrounds, one being a swamp, and the other some kind of robot factory. Each level is full of eggs that can be picked up as a form of in-game currency, which in turn can be used to upgrade your weapons (either a fly swatter or zapper). There are so many eggs available that it’s easy to max out the attributes of both weapons within just a couple of chapters. This renders level exploration unnecessary, very much making this a “get from point A to point B” affair.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with such a simple-minded platformer, Flyhunter Origins has some serious, borderline game-breaking bugs. The first noticeably apparent problem is its absolutely atrocious framerate. The game’s animations are constantly jittery, and it often feels like the action is lagging behind your actual button presses. The controls are also unresponsive because of this, and the “double jump” maneuver only seems to work part of the time. This makes platforming a lot harder than it should be, and it’s utterly maddening that a game could be released in this state. The Vita is somewhat notorious for having games in which the framerate is subpar (i.e. New Little King’s Story, the Jak and Daxter collection, etc.), but this takes the cake. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have continued playing past the first few levels if I didn’t have a review copy.
If that weren’t enough, there are all sorts of bizarre graphical glitches that pop up. The graphics themselves have crude textures that are borderline PS1-quality, and it’s often hard to tell what areas can be landed on without dying. For example, in order to get past areas where there is water and nothing else, your character has to stand on a platform that is at the surface level of the water so they are able to walk across it. The problem here is that it can be difficult to tell where the platform ends and the water begins, often causing frustrating cheap deaths since the character cannot swim. I also ran into issues where I would jump onto a leaf petal or a mushroom cap, both of which appeared to be solid platforms, only to fall through to my death for no apparent reason.
At the end of every chapter is a level where the game turns into a 3D flying chase. You are forced to fly in a continuous loop where you need to chase an insect and then hit it from behind with your flyswatter. These are even more exasperating than the normal platforming levels, as the hit detection is incredibly erratic. Sometimes you will be able to fly through plants and other solid objects without consequence, yet other times you will start stumbling through the air at random. Thankfully these are short missions, but they are tedious all the same.
Judging from the mostly positive Steam and Google Play user reviews, it’s quite possible that these major issues are only present on the PS Vita version of the game. I haven’t played them personally, but if you are really interested in checking out Flyhunter Origins, it might be better to go with one of them instead. As it stands, I cannot recommend the Vita port to anyone, even at its fairly low price point at $6.99. There are far better platforming options on the system.
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)