Who’s That Flying?! review – schmup, meet Horde mode

Verdict on the Steam version of MediaTonic’s sideways-inclined alien discombobulator.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, February 18, 2011

Having crumpled my ego against the homely 2D shooter time and time again in the two score years I’ve been playing videogames, I’ve come to think of it not so much as a genre as a force of nature – an unfeeling, unrelenting deluge of cyclical oblivion, embraced only by madmen or the inhumanly quick-fingered.

Imagine my delight, then, at coming face to face with a schmup where dying is impossible. That game is MediaTonic’s Who’s That Flying!? – originally coded for PlayStation Portable, now a subject of the mighty Steamworks empire – and if you have a weakness for budget-priced explosions at a rate of 10 or 20 per second, it’s your new best friend.

The plot sees the Megaman-ish Guardian of Earth (plain old “Earth” to colleagues) appearing before an interplanetary tribunal to rebut charges of negligence, which he does by uploading playable flashbacks of his endeavours – 18 in all – to the court computer. The villains of the piece are the Doombeasts, raggedy purple hunks of teeth and tentacles who stream into view from the right. They can’t hurt you, but the smallest and most common specimens – Ravagers – will take a bite out of the urban backdrop if they exit stage-left. Let 50 slip your clutches, and it’s bye bye metropolis and bye bye job prospects.

The Ravagers themselves are easy to pick off, but they tend to arrive hand in hand (or talon in talon) with larger, sturdier breeds of bogey, who soak up shots and use icky biological abilities to slow Earth down. You’ll grow to hate these latter, more capable Doombeasts very, very quickly, as stray Ravagers sidle past while you writhe in clouds of snot, or struggle with coils of lightning. Adding insult to injury, every Ravager lost also resets your multiplier and Special bar.

The Specials are pretty routine, ranging from turbo-fire to a fat white beam of insta-kill, and the challenge is less to wield them skilfully as to wield them punctually, saving the megadeath for crowds or for the pattern-bosses that crop up at the conclusion of each chapter. It’s not the only way to crank up the pain – enemies at mini-boss level and above must be dispatched up close by holding control key and battering space bar, and the resulting blast wave will take care of any nearby Ravagers as well.

The graphics are simple but charismatic and - crucially - fast.

Stir it all together, and you’ve got a diverting, moderately frantic mishmash of tower defence and twitch-marksmanship, let down only by a short play length (one hour, if that – but then a game like this thrives on replays) and an oddly minimalist attitude to ranking systems.

There are medals to win in Story Mode, from Bronze to Perfect, but the expected leaderboards are confined to Infinite Mode, which pits Earth against a never-ending onslaught in a quest for score-attack greatness. Challenge Mode, meanwhile, is Story Mode with added quirk – you might have to beat a boss inside a minute, or defend a city already bitten down to the foundation stones.

It’s tempting to whinge about the loading times, which seem rather hefty for a game that wouldn’t look out of place in a flipbook, but then you reflect on the six pound price tag and are promptly disgusted by your own ingratitude. Who’s That Flying?! zests up an arcade formula so familiar we practically have it etched across the insides of our eyelids, and it doesn’t make you pay through the nose for the privilege. Those deaf to the genre’s charms probably won’t be much moved regardless, but “bullet hell” veterans weary of their own, incessant destruction should find something to amuse.

8 out of 10

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