I wasn’t particularly excited when I booted up Flyhunter Origins on my Playstation Vita for the first time. All of its promotional material made it appear to be your run-of-the-mill, cheap and cheerful kiddie’s platformer, and in a way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, because the market demands these affordable time wasters. It’s got some lovely animation work and cut scenes going for it, which quickly roped me in, and soon enough, against all the odds, I found myself having a genuinely good time. Unsurprisingly, the stinging slap of reality quickly hit me like an oversized, electrified fly-swatter, and my initial suspicions became reality. Flyhunter revealed itself to be a barebones, broken and repellant mess of a game. But let’s roll things back a bit.
Zak is the janitor aboard the Flyhunter crew’s ship, but he’s a bit of a bumbling idiot. During the flight back from one of their missions the crew went into stasis and left Zak in charge of cleaning the ship, but, predictably, he’s messed everything up. Whilst practicing his broom handle martial-arts he accidentally hit the cargo bay door button, ejecting all members of the crew, as well as the insects they managed to recover during their trip to the surface. Casting of his janitor role, and quickly assuming the role of honorary flyhunter, Zak hastily heads for the Earth’s surface.
Despite some underwhelming menu production values, things get off to a decent start. Zak beams down to the surface, and becomes lost among the towering leaves of grass, scary insects and discarded garbage. Sure, Flyhunter Origins textures are as ugly as sin but the overall design is quite nicely thought out, and so is the action. It plays much like any other platformer, and you’ll be jumping from leaves and flowers, and working your way through underground tunnels in search of your lost cargo. You’ll also be on the lookout for insect eggs which can be used as currency to buy upgrades for your fly swatter and zapper gun. Although initial impressions are surprisingly pleasant, they are foreshadowed by some issues. Within seconds of starting the game up it becomes clear that Flyhunter Origins on the Vita is but an afterthought, pushed out the door as quickly as it possibly can be. Framerates are all over the place and are never what could be described as “smooth”, Zak’s animations are jittery and unpleasant to look at, and, most irritatingly, the momentum that accompanies his movement (coupled with the poor frame rate) makes platforming more difficult than it needs to be.
I wasn’t about to let these hiccups get in the way of what could otherwise be a perfectly enjoyable game, so I marched on with my fly swatter in hand. After a handful of leafy and pleasant levels it came time to recapture my first fly, and it was at this point that the game completely fell apart. In this section, the game switches from a side-scrolling platformer to a racer, with you using your jetpack to catch up to the fly before hitting it on the arse with your swatter. Any semblance of “control” instantly vanishes in these sections, and you’ll haphazardly bounce around the short race track, clipping through objects whilst trying to exert some control over Zak. If you’re lucky the accompanying music might decide to stay on for the duration, but it might also, equally, decide to stop playing altogether. After you’ve bounced around the level and manged to take the fly down you’ll head off into the next section of the game to do some more platforming before taking part in another tedious fly race. Obviously, these sections have been included to add a little variety to the gameplay, but they are in such a sorry state, and so boring to play, that the developer would have been better off just omitting them entirely.
The moment you recapture your first fly marks a sharp decline in the quality, and playability, of Flyhunter Origins. Bugs become much more pronounced (not the ones you are looking for!), and the lazy, slapdash port job becomes so painfully apparent as to offend. Why bother porting the game at all if you are going to leave out assets, or not bother re-rendering them specifically for the Vita? Case in point: Zak can’t walk on water, unless it is on the same level as the platform he is standing on. But you’ll have a hard time identifying it because there’s nothing to indicate where the actual water begins. We even found ourselves drowning before we had touched the wet stuff. Clearly, some assets have become lost in translation, but it’s not something that is easy to forgive. The game also, quite possibly, features one of the most broken sections I have ever encountered in gaming. In said section you’ll face off with a powerful praying mantis, many times your size, but the game quite literally ceases to function on any level at all. I found myself trapped in its claws, frame-rate well below the single digit threshold, and unable to move. Eventually the mantis simply died, allowing me to proceed, but I was left asking myself how such a major issue could possibly have made it through quality assurance?
I tried my best to like Flyhunter Origins, I really did, and for a fleeting moment I actually enjoyed it, but it wasn’t to be. Instead of completing it through sheer enjoyment I resolved, through both determination and spite, to see Zak’s mission through to the end, regardless of the game’s numerous issues. Developer,Steel Wool Games, has pushed the Vita “publish” button in their development engine far too soon, and as a result the final game is a shambolic mess. No child should have to endure such shoddy production values, even at Flyhunter’s low asking price. Play it safe and avoid getting stung by giving this game a wide berth.
Flyhunter Origins is available on PSN, iOS, and Steam.