02/02/2012

FLYING HERO (NES)

With a title like Flying Hero, my first thought was that this game would chronicle the exciting adventures of a Chinese bootleg Superman; the kind of superhero you find in toy form on semi-legal market stalls the world over with names like "Superbman" and "Dark Gotham Vigilance Warrior", badly constructed from razor-sharp plastic and daubed in toxic paint. It's amazing I didn't spend more of my childhood in A & E, really. Flying Hero is sadly not about the adventures of these cut-rate crimefighters - it's actually the story of some true heroes, brave men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis by flinging themselves about on trampolines and calling in airstrikes. I am, of course, referring to the Fire Brigade. Flying Hero, created by Aicom and released in 1989 for the NES, lets us venture into their dangerous and thrilling world. How exciting!

Is that our hero? Okay, so he's not the most conventionally attractive leading man, but the Fire Brigade doesn't select candidates based on the squareness of their jaw or the firmness of their pectorals - they're chosen for their bravery, compassion and most importantly their aerodynamic profile. Flying Hero here may look like a bat that's been forced into a space-suit and thrown face-first into a window, but you can bet he's got a drag coefficient that'd put an F1 car to shame.

Upon starting the game, you're greeted with a scene of a cutesy fire engine driving up to an apartment building. Notice that the ladder attached to said fire engine is far too short to be of any practical use - this will become important in a moment. Also notice that this building isn't actually on fire.

Now it's on fire, catching light just as our hero arrives. That seems awfully convenient. Given the rather unorthodox methods used by these particular firemen, I can only assume that they're some kind of freelance fire-fighting operation that drives around looking for situations where their skills are needed. Some days must be a little lacking in terms of towering infernos. They've got quotas to meet, families to feed, and if a day is especially slow then who could blame them for giving nature a little nudge. Maybe someone might, say, drop a lit match in the wrong place. Perhaps somebody has tampered with the building's electrics. Whatever the cause, the building is soon ablaze and the Flying Hero has to rescue the poor inhabitants (and their fat wallets) trapped within. He does this via the power of trampolining.

I always though that firemen using trampolines was something that only happened in cartoons, but it turns out that it really was a real-life part of the fire-fighter's arsenal, even up until fairly recent times. Unlike in cartoons, it rarely ended in comical hi-jinks - people bouncing out of them and cracking their skulls or simply ripping right through them was a fairly common outcome - but they did save lives with much greater frequency than if people just leapt straight onto solid pavement.
The Flying Hero doesn't use fire-fighting trampolines in the traditional manner, though: rather than waiting for the rescuees to come to him, he uses the trampoline to bounce up to them.

Flying Hero is a nothing more than a twist on the classic Arkanoid style of gameplay. Instead of using a paddle to smack a ball against breakable blocks, you control the two firemen holding the trampoline at the bottom of the screen, moving them left and right to catch the Plummeting Hero and launch him back up to rescue more citizens and put out more fires. There are a couple of ways you can clear each screen: you can either extinguish all the fires by bumping into them several times during your flights, or you can rescue all the people hanging out of the windows. You do this by bouncing past them, which will trigger a display of the kind of raw steel-balled bravery not usually seen outside recipients of the Victoria Cross. The victim grabs onto the Flying Hero as he speeds past their window, trusting that not only is this weirdo who just flew by someone that they can put their faith in, but also that those two guys on the ground will catch them with their trampoline. If you do manage to catch the Flying Hero and his terrified passenger then the poor soul is rescued, some points are added to your score and you go flying straight back into the action.

The game is given an added pachinko-y flavour by the way FH interacts with the obstacles in his path. He'll sail right through a window containing a civilian, but he rebounds off the fires. Most stages also have a small red bird that flits left and right across the screen with no discernable purpose other than getting in your way, and the Flying Hero will rebound off him, too. You can see him on the left-hand side of the picture above. It may look like he's roosting but he's actually surveying the scene with his cruel, unfeeling eyes, patiently waiting for these creatures to get cooked just the way he likes them before descending in a whirling mass of feathers and talons to eat his fill.
So, there are things you'll bounce off and things you won't, and because you move quite slowly compared to other Breakout clones it feels like there's more emphasis on trying to predict where the Hero's various collisions will send him than on honing your reflexes to razor-sharp fineness.

There are also plenty of power-ups to collect that appear when FH bounces into a burning window, leaving you to catch them with your trampoline. The most commonly-appearing items are large bags of money. The Flying Hero's shady operation is starting to make sense now - once he's set light to a building, he can use the confusion and panic as cover while he loots the place, the occasional "rescue" making him look like a hero and feeding his twisted ego.
Other power-ups include the usual fare you'd expect to find in an Arkanoid clone. There are pick-ups to make your trampoline bigger, or to make FH put out the fires in less hits, or even to spawn another little Hero so you've got two of the little bastards bouncing around the screen at once. That might sound good, but in practise it means that one of them is going to be introduced to the pavement pretty quickly. Often, the two Heroes will bounce to opposite ends of the screen, forcing you to make a decision about which one will live and which will die. And here I thought this was going to be a cheery, colourful trampoline-based action game, not a “proclaim judgment on the worth of these men” simulator.
Some stages even have a power-up that'll let you end the stage early. If you spot a trumpet, make sure you grab it and a raincloud will appear to put out all the fires. It’s very useful, and if sort of makes sense. If you grab a walkie-talkie - well, it definitely ends the stage...

...by summoning a helicopter that destroys the building with a bomb.

The Flying Hero will stop at nothing to ensure that no trace of his crime remains. Sure, there were still people left alive in that building, but they were going to burn to death anyway. The bomb was the merciful option, really. Embrace the bomb. Also, please throw any bags of cash may have down to our ground crew.
The last item, which I think is supposed to be a Swiss Army knife, whisks you away to a completely different bonus stage.

This is the eternal punishment for FH's many, many crimes: an endless grey corridor lined with unmarked doors. What lies behind each door? A person who needs rescuing, a stick of dynamite, some kind of vengeful fire demon? Maybe the stairs to the next floor? Oh no wait, it's a key. Flying Hero has escaped to the next stage. Not even the mystical forces who bind the universe can punish him for long.
That's quite a lot of words about what really isn't much of a game. Watch the Flying Hero bounce around and don't let him fall to his grisly death. Do this for thirty-two stages. That is all. The bonus stages break up the gameplay a little, in their own tedious way, but mostly it's just the Flying Hero starting fighting fires in various different locales.

Like these wooden houses, for instance. My, but they do look terribly flammable. It'd be a real shame if they caught fire somehow. All it'd take is one misplaced spark, and the whole thing could... hang on, is that monkey?

Why do you need my help? You're an ape, for chrissakes. Just climb down! By adopting the lifestyle of the hu-man and living in a low-cost apartment building, you have lost touch with the ancient ways of nature and now you shall burn for your hubris. Silly monkey!

Some stages are two screens tall, like this castle filled with wailing princesses. You've hit the jackpot this time, Flying Hero! Think of all the luxury items just waiting to be thrown out of windows and into your waiting trampoline. You somehow managed to sneak into a royal castle and set fire to the large stone building, so I guess you deserve a big reward. Or, you know, the guillotine.

You even get to head into space! The bird is replaced with a UFO, which is a nice touch. It also gives Flying Hero a convenient scapegoat when the fire investigators start asking questions. Who are they going to believe: a hero who risked his life to save the trapped astronauts or some alien who just happened to be hovering around the crime scene? Sadly, they missed a trick here by not giving the space stages a different gravity level, although I suppose having your characters move any slower would have made the space stages trivially easy.

And then there are these weird stages. What can I say other than it's a place where top-hatted aristocrats live side-by-side with cat people in giant cucumbers located in a graveyard? It's probably some kind of hippy / goth / furry commune. With giant cucumbers.
If you manage to make your way through all thirty-two stages - and that really depends more on your boredom threshold than the difficulty level of the game - then you're rewarded with a pretty fantastic ending.
Not really, it's some text on a plain black background. Here it is in full:

"Like this way people have saved their lives and all of fire was extinguishd by brave young fireman. And people got a great deal of peace and love. Someday, somewhere, if you find fire accidents, then you may call brave fireman please encouragement them.
Thank you for your playing this game.
Can you enjoi this game.
See you again,
Bye-bye."

Fantastic. It all seems worth it now. I'll be sure to encouragement every fireman I meet from now on.

I can't really call Flying Hero a good game. There's not really enough to it for it to be a good game. The most fascinating thing about it is that it really shows how far videogaming has come. I don't just mean in terms of graphics and sound, but more that this was (presumably) a full-price retail release. It came out in the same year as Castlevania 3 and only a couple of months after Final Fantasy II. That fact that something so basic could be released in the same bracket as these (and many other) more advanced, complex NES games is kind of amazing. Say what you like about the state of modern gaming, but there are very few games released these days that display that level of disparity in the amount of complexity and content.

Taken on its own merits, though, it's a fun little timewaster. The graphics are decent, although there are only a couple of music tracks and they get very tiresome very quickly. The controls work well, the physics are solid and once you've figured out that FH can bounce on the heads of his comrades as well as the actual trampoline but items can't, you've got something that might entertain you for twenty minutes or so. If nothing else, it's make a good mobile game, especially given that the only controls you need are to move your trampoline left and right. If there isn't already an iPhone game about trampolining firemen, then I'd be very surprised.

That's Flying Hero, then. Pray he doesn't arrive in your neighbourhood with a can of petrol, dreaming of wealth and fame.

No comments:

Post a Comment

VGJUNK Archive

Search This Blog

Followers