Review by Pete Schwab, Special to the American-Statesman
Fingers hover tentatively over six buttons, because each button press must be precisely timed or the mission is a failure. The bright colors look warm and inviting, but running into the wrong wall at the wrong time can be a disaster. Touch-and-go gameplay has been a hallmark of video games for a long time, going back to “Lunar Lander” arcade cabinets from 1979. However, it has been a while since it has looked and sounded as cool as this.
“Flywrench” is the latest retro-styled, techno fueled action game from Messhof, the Los Angeles-based developers who created the indie fighting game “Nidhogg.” The controls are sloppy in a way that demands near-absolute attention; each decision changes the color and the trajectory of the tiny bird-like ship. These factors determine which colored gates can be safely traversed. The soundtrack is upbeat, very cool, and meshes nicely with the hypnotic visual style of the game. The diegetic sound effects are sparse and subtle however. Feedback is mostly visual, including the very satisfying smear-effect which happens upon death and indicates which color you incorrectly chose to bring about your demise, purposefully or not.
Games which demand precision reflexes can quickly become frustrating and discourage players from pressing on. “Flywrench” does a lot of things to alleviate this problem: the levels are quick. It may take several tries to get through a puzzle, but with the levels lasting a few seconds each it’s not as though dying sets you far back. Persistence is rewarded through frequent additional content which gets unlocked as more puzzles are solved. There is no GAME OVER screen or a screen asking whether you want to continue; the game immediately drops you into your next attempt without pause which keeps momentum going. The levels aren’t necessarily presented in a linear order. There are generally a few puzzles to choose from at any given time so if one proves too daunting, it is easy to put it aside and work on a different level for a while.
The game comes with over 150 levels created by the developer, but it also includes a level design kit which allows players to tap into their inner sadist and create levels for other players to die in repeatedly. Distribution is handled through Steam, which makes it easy to add and remove highly rated creations from other players. Theoretically, as long as people are creating new levels, the amount of content for “Flywrench” is infinite.
Games like “Flywrench” do a great job of demonstrating just how connected (or disconnected) your fingers, eyes and brain are. The difficulty also creates that rare moment of euphoric bliss when the little birdy-ship bounces off the wall in just the right way and lands in the goal, something that seemed impossible just seconds before. It is inexpensive, hard to put down, visually pleasing and has a fantastic soundtrack.
$10, downloadable for Windows PC and Mac