Flem, Sticky Little Preview

Flem_logo

This game is the most adorable game about a booger I have ever played.  Your main character is a little pixel snot, and the style of this game reflects the silliness having such a main character implies.  Its retro-style pixel art and chiptune music make it feel like a long-lost classic from the SNES, but its divergence from the usual recipe of those older games is what makes this game so much fun.  It is also a title appearing this week at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany at the Unity 3D stand.

Flem is a booger.  The first title I saw when I loaded the game read “One day in your nose…”  The tutorial takes place in a little alcove of someone’s nose where other little boogers teach you everything how you will interact with the game.  First there is your basic movement: left, right and jump.  The most important feature of movement is the roll.  Using roll is similar to running in that it increases speed, but it’s a toggle, so you don’t stop rolling until you hit the button again.  When I started, I was as careful as I could be; but once I realized how to progress in the game, I realized I had to step it up.

Final goals tend to define a game, and the goal here is timing.  Each level is a timed race to get past treacherous terrain, flora and fauna.  This is why I found myself rolling through most of the game, since you need to make a good time to progress.  I died a lot, mostly because platformers are not my strongest suit, but also because this game’s squishy exterior is only skin deep.  This is not a forgiving game.  Sure, each level is short, but that doesn’t change the fact that starting from the beginning every time is a pain.  I have cursed Flem more times than any other game in such a short period of time, and he can really be fucking frustrating, too.

Behold! The nostrils!

“What the actual fuck..?”

As you roll along through the game, you encounter a variety of obstacles, with the most common being spikes.  Spikes are literally fucking everywhere.  It’s like Flem got launched from the warm safety of the nostrils into a nightmare world of demon spikes and bizarre animals.  I wouldn’t call the creatures in this game enemies, since you don’t really fight them.  By all means, this game is almost Buddhist in its treatment of other creatures.  That I have found, there is no means to kill enemies, mostly because that is not what Flem is about.  Rather than sterilizing the environment of it natural fauna, you are tasked with slipping by them.  And they are weird.  There are yellow jumping bugs (dust mites, guess), cactus-like plants that launch pellets into the air, flying purple bugs and a myriad of other obstacles, but again, you are not there to kill anything: you just want to get past quickly.  At the end of the level, you’ll be graded, and the faster you completed it, the better your score.  Of course, there are only three scores, noted by different-colored gems.  One of the biggest points of frustration are the buttons to continue the game.  For now, it seems selection randomly flickers from one button to the next, making it equally possible to restart, continue or return to the menu by accident.  It’s really annoying, but in a preview this early, it is good to see so few flaws.

In order to get past, you are given some interesting abilities, too.  One of these abilities is gathering up little purple bubbles to float around.  Of course, there is a gauge that displays the amount of time that you have to hover, which can be refilled by grabbing another purple bubble.  This gets difficult, too, since your ultimate goal is to get to the end quickly, not to collect pick-ups.  There are also orbs that give you speed boosts, let you jump and these are trickled into the game slowly enough that you get a handle on them, and the game ramps up the difficulty at a rate that is challenging and still fun.

Older games have a more specific motivation with an interference-oriented goal.  Mario would vanquish goombas, beat on turtles and kick Bowser’s butt to save the Princess.  Flem is a booger.  He isn’t nearly as committed to combat as the suspenders-clad knight of the Mushroom Kingdom.  There isn’t even a definable enemy, just this sense of displacement that drives Flem onward.  In the very beginning, rather than some foe drawing you out into the world, you are launched out of the nose by a sneeze.  It’s a beginning as goofy as the main character, but it sets a tone of enjoying the pixels of the game rather than selecting and neutralizing targets.  As I have come to expect and enjoy from Norway, there is a talent for creating a fun environment that you pass through and enjoy, rather than tear through like a tornado full of missiles and chainsaws.  I’ll bet that’s the next sequel to Sharknado.

What the fuck is with all the deadly spikes?!

What the fuck is with all the deadly spikes?!

The art in this game is spectacular, despite the simple concept.  The tutorial, which is currently pretty basic, is delivered alongside a gallery of pictures that seem to tell the story of dissenting opinions between the denizens of the nose.  Some ended up leaving, others stayed to cultivate some kind of snot garden.  The music is always whimsical and echoes the style of the environment.  It’s not some kind of modern, pulsating techno-mix of chiptunes; it’s just plain simple bit-tunes suitable for a game on the SNES.  I would expect this title to appear on Ouya and other simple platforms.  Alongside those, Henchman and Goon are trying to get this game voted up on Steam!  I would expect this to be another fun little title for a low-ish price, so go vote it up on Steam and lets play!

Of everything that bothers me about this game, nothing drove me up a fucking wall like the spikes lining every single wall in sight.  I mean seriously!  Is the world descending into the worship of some bizarre demon-god that covers everything in tiny spikes?!  What would the point of that be?  Does he want you to just be permanently uncomfortable?  I mean, spikes are spikes, but at this size it might be, at worst, like laying on toothbrushes.  That might even tickle.  It’s like the world was infiltrated by the most effectively strategizing and bizarrely quixotic aggressor in the world.  Maybe he was invented by Woody Allen?  I dunno, just seems like something he might imagine.

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