Gamescom '13: Hands-on with Tegra platformer Flyhunter Origins
By Rob Hearn 27 August 2013
Game Name: Flyhunter Origins | Developer: Steel Wool Games | Publisher: Ripstone | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad | Genre: Arcade, Platform
When I visited publisher Ripstone at Gamescom to see Flyhunter Origins, the first thing I learned was that the game is being made by San Francisco start-up Steel Wool Games.

"Steel Wool Games are led," I was told, "by a very talented group of animators and artists that currently still work at an Academy Award-winning animation studio that I can't mention because they still work there."

But, as is often the case, the internet already knows. A perfunctory search will tell you that the Oscar-winning studio in question is Pixar.

You don't need to Google it to see the evidence. For instance, during the cutscene that introduces the cloning machines that serve as restart points throughout the levels, Zach regenerates and then immediately dies, regenerates and dies, over and over again until he eventually sees his own corpse and promptly freaks out.

I'm certain that it's an original gag, but at the same time it wouldn't have been entirely out of place in Despicable Me.

Honey, I shrunk the minions

The premise of the story is that Zach has accidentally jettisoned his cargo of flies in space, and so must return to Earth to collect more.

Making this apparently trivial task more challenging is the unfortunate fact that Zach is about the same size as a fly, and is therefore vulnerable to all of the dangers that afflict tiny life forms. To Zach, an ant is like a crocodile, and a frog is like a carnivorous land whale.

Each level of the game is divided into two sections. The first sees you negotiating platforms, jumping the on the heads of greenfly and other creepy-crawlies, dodging giant frogs, and generally doing the sorts of things one does in a platform game.

You can double-jump, roll, cling to the edges of platforms, and walk on water providing you step onto it from the back of a pondskater.

I played Flyhunter Origins on Nvidia's Tegra-powered Shield console, but it will be available for all Tegra devices (as well as iOS and potentially Wii U, PC, and Mac). There's a bit of Mario-style inertia to the movement, which was manageable with sticks but might be awkward with the virtual controllers that the touchscreen version will use.

However, it's too early to judge the controls because the version on display at Gamescom was clearly far from finished - in fact, it's only just gone into Alpha.

Swatting up

And if it's too early to judge the side-scrolling sections then it's definitely too early to judge the 3D from-behind, StarFox-like fly-catching sections, in which you need to catch up with a fly, swooping and banking through giant foliage, until you get close enough to start spanking it to death with your flyswatter.

Even so, the pedigree of the animation is clear. Flyhunter Origin looks and feels like a quality animated film, albeit one in the relatively early stages of production. This resemblance is thanks primarily to its minion-esque protagonist, but also to its detailed, characterful, lovingly constructed world and the charming slapstick humour that runs through the game.

If there's a concern, it's that the level design and the gameplay don't quite match the standard of the presentation. My time with Flyhunter Origins was brief, but I didn't come away feeling as though I had glimpsed a future classic.

Reading between the lines, it may be significant that I heard a lot about animators and artists but relatively little about game designers (other than the fact that consultants have been drafted in, which is either worrying or reassuring, depending on how you look at it.)

However, publisher Ripstone is prepared to give Steel Wool Games as much time as it needs to make an impact with its highly anticipated debut, and the developer's heritage is certainly encouraging in terms of quality.

Flyhunter Origins will be available at the end of the year, or possibly later. The price hasn't been established, but it won't be free-to-play.
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