07/02/2022

๐Ÿฆ—Flea! : Special Edition | SEGA Dreamcast | Review | 7/10 | "On the face of it that sounds quite grim" ๐Ÿฆ— @WaveGameStudios #GameDev #IndieGames #SEGA

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Flea! is an upbeat little platformer that was originally released by its developer Lowtek Games with a very limited run for the NES and Dreamcast in 2020. This month saw the game re-released for the Dreamcast as a ‘special edition’ by the Norwich-based publisher WAVE Game Studios, complete with a separate soundtrack CD and all wrapped up in a jewel case with a PAL-style design. 

Flea! puts you in the shoes of ‘Henry the Hyperactive Flea’ as you navigate through the internal organs of unknown beasts that you have somehow ended up inside, avoiding enemies and traps (or more likely running into them repeatedly as your thumbs get progressively sorer), and collecting blood that you will share with your parasitical friends that are in desperate need.

On the face of it that sounds quite grim, but the art style, character design and music all pull together well to produce a light-hearted atmosphere that prevails throughout. As you work your way through all the blood and guts the sparse snippets of pun-heavy dialogue reveal the altruistic (if not revolutionary) mission of Henry, who is placed firmly in the mould of the heroic protagonist. Similar to some other recent indie Dreamcast releases such as Alice Sisters or Intrepid Izzy, all of the above is implemented, whether deliberately or not, in a way that ensures that the game can be suitable for all ages.

One aspect that may be less suitable for very young audiences, or even older ones who are quick to lose patience, is the difficulty. Flea! definitely lives up to the ‘challenging’ moniker that is assigned to it by Lowtek on the back cover, and the ‘retro inspired’ description may well be as much of a nod to the difficulty of older games as to Flea!’s 8-bit graphics.

The primary mechanisms are extremely simple: using your analogue stick or D-pad, you navigate Henry through a series of mostly single-screen levels, collecting blood (which you can periodically trade-in for more lives), and avoiding a variety of obstacles and enemies all of which result in instantaneous death. However, the twist is that your character is constantly jumping (as fleas are want to), something that you learn can be dampened through rapid button-bashing, but never halted altogether.

The challenge then is to direct your hyperactive flea through a maze of obstacles, execute your jumps with precise timing, and stay cognizant of the enemies flying around your screen. Jump a millisecond too early? Henry falls to his death down a gaping pit below. Time your jump perfectly, and you soar across the pit, only to forget to dampen your next jump, catapulting into the spikes above. Execute all the previous steps to perfection, gaining a hefty dose of serotonin and speeding agonisingly close to the level end, only to be swatted by a mosquito. Scream into a pillow, then pick your controller back up and try a few dozen more times. 

Such an experience may seem awfully frustrating, yet it means that the sense of triumph you gain when you do finally clear a section that you have been grappling with is all the more satisfying. You also quickly learn that the gameplay has been designed with failure in mind—upon death, you are instantaneously revived at the beginning of the level, and your life count is usually in the triple figures, allowing you to fail multiple times over and still be able to progress. Once you take this ethos on board and have vented any initial fits of rage, this makes for some thoroughly fun and addicting gameplay.

The undeniable challenge also adds some much-needed longevity that would otherwise be missing. With 80 levels and 8 boss fights, Flea! isn’t overly short by any means, but the fast pace of the game means it is possible to be done within a two-hour sitting. Mastering the moves so that you glide gracefully rather than judder through levels, taking the riskier paths to collect all the blood, and racking up a high score by cheating death, all take multiple plays to achieve. The experience has been highly enjoyable for each of the dozen or so times I’ve given it a whirl thus far, and the quick start-up (no menu screen) and absence of loading times means it is ideal for short blasts when life gets busy.

Although Flea! is a charming game that packs a lot of positives, it does have its shortcomings. The level artwork and design shift a handful of times throughout the game—the dark neon disco vibe in some of the later stages is particularly gorgeous—but I would have welcomed these switches a little more often to give the player some more visual variety. Likewise, the chiptune soundtrack is well composed and suits the gameplay down to a tee, but if you ever find yourself stuck re-attempting a challenging couple of levels, then it can start to become a little monotonous.

Some of these limitations may well be inevitable given that the game originated on the NES, and considering that Lowtek Games are probably working extremely efficiently with modest resources. Yet it would undeniably be nice to see ports such as Flea! make greater use of the Dreamcast’s capabilities, even if this were just the ability to save high scores to the VMU.

So, should you flee from Flea! or fork out some coins to buy a copy?

1 comment:

  1. This game was suck i play this game so many time, I'm searching for best essay writing service, last time i play so many games I spent so many time in counter strike.

    ReplyDelete

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