Frequent Flyer (Review)

Indie games are my bread and butter for the most part. They remind me of the old days of gaming where ‘fun’ took precedence over things like graphics and story. This game design philosophy began making a comeback when Bizarre Creations, the makers of the Project Gotham Racing series, developed a small title on the side known as Geometry Wars. And Geometry Wars was a clear inspiration for this indie title: Frequent Flyer. 

Geometry Wars’ release on the Xbox Live Arcade (or XBLA) was a shining example of both the types of games we could expect from the service as well as the types of games developers should develop for the service. It was fun, simple, and had a striking presentation. So I can’t really blame the two-person team at Cold Wild Games for creating something in that vein. Now don’t get me wrong, Frequent Flyer has a few twists to help distinguish itself from the likes of Geometry Wars but it still very much follows that template.

The graphics are simple but effective.

First, I want to talk about the presentation. From the moment I saw the Steam banner image, I knew this game would have an 8/16-bit aesthetic. And I was right. The entire art style is very reminiscent of the 8 and 16-bit shoot-em-ups of the NES and early arcade days. The music and sound effects follow this design as well. I didn’t really find the graphics all that appealing but they are effective. The backgrounds are mostly bland but they don’t interfere with the action on screen. The enemies, for the most part, are also very easy to spot. Your plane, however, can blend with the background at times, depending on which one you are using and which background you are playing against. Still, this is a minor gripe since it didn’t stop me from playing or enjoying the game.

The music here is well done and effective for the type of game this is. It is almost like an 8-bit rendition of the type of music you’d hear in a Geometry Wars game. Very upbeat and catchy – just the way it should be. Would I listen to this soundtrack outside of the game? Probably not but it is still a standout soundtrack in my opinion.

The gameplay, as I stated before, is very much inspired by Geometry Wars so, as you might expect, this is almost more of a twin stick shooter than a traditional vertical or horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up. Interestingly enough, this plays most like the arcade game Astroids; you move your plane in any direction with the left stick and whichever direction you are facing is the direction you shoot your weapon. This method seems to help keep things from getting as frantic as Geometry Wars, which I appreciate. Don’t get me wrong, this game still delivers a challenge. It just makes your mistakes feel more like your mistakes.

Throughout each level, you work towards various goals: destroy XX amount of enemies, achieve XX score, and so on. Each level builds up your star count which can be used as currency for buying new planes and each plane has its’ own set of strengths and weaknesses. Having a tough time on a level? Try a different plane. You’ll likely fare much better. I appreciate this variety because it offers flexibility in the games’ difficulty. A less capable plane can get the job done, but it will be considerably harder than it would be if you were to use a more capable plane. This essentially allows each player to play the way they want while still being challenged. Another aspect that sets this game apart from the likes of Geometry Wars or Astroids, is the weapon variety. There are a number of weapons that you can pick up throughout each level. They range from a spread-shot, rockets, bombs, and more. It made me think of Contra, oddly enough, since each weapon was varied and carried its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If I had one gripe about the gameplay/design, it would be that I was never sure if I was actually progressing. Sure the enemies and goals remained the same on subsequent tries but there was no level counter. No level introduction. Nothing. This might not be such an issue if the levels had a more distinct look, but as it stands, I find it a bit confusing. But overall, I felt like the gameplay was varied and, most importantly, fun.

Don’t let this screen deceive you: things are about to get very intense.

Then there are the controls. Perhaps the weakest part of the game. Being a Steam game, it obviously supports the mouse and keyboard setup. But this method is flawed. You use the WASD keys for movement and the Space Bar to shoot. I found this highly unenjoyable. Moving on to the Steam controller (which defaulted to the gamepad setup for this game), it was lacking, to say the least. Meaning that official support is completely absent. The only button that did anything for me was the X button (which shoots). The analog stick, touch pads, and all other buttons were not functional. Sure, I could have made up my own control scheme but I felt it was worth mentioning the lack of official support in my review. The best-faring controller was the Xbox 360 controller. The analog stick handled movement, X handled shooting, and R1 handled dodging. Everything worked well in-game. Lastly, I tried out my Retrolink Sega Saturn USB controller. To my surprise, this worked really well! The digital-only input from the directional pad seemed to add a bit of snappiness to the movement. Firing duties were automatically mapped to the C button and dodging was mapped to the Z button. Now the reason I consider the controls to be the most glaring issue with the game is due to the fact that it barely works in the menus. When I was able to navigate the menus, sans mouse, it was simply a mouse pointer that was mapped to the analog stick or d-pad. This certainly doesn’t break the game by any means but it could have been much better implemented.

You will die often in this shooter.

Cold Wild Games really did well with this game. While it certainly isn’t perfect, it is a fun game that can be enjoyed in short bursts or longer play sessions. Check out Frequent Flyer if you get a chance. It’s a good time. If you’d like to see this game in action, be sure to check out the video below. Mark took the time to capture some footage so enjoy! Also, look forward to my Retrolink Sega Saturn USB controller review in the future.

***DISCLAIMER: I was given a Steam code by Cold Wild Games but I was not compensated in any way for this review. Furthermore, I played the beta (buildID 1473709) so some, if not all, of the things I complained about in my review, may be fixed by the time the game releases. I will update this review if I find any notable changes after the game is officially released.***

Here is Mark’s review of the game on YouTube.