Review by Ryan Harrison
Never quite had such an easy time picking up chicks.
The game Flicky was developed by good old Sega and first released to arcades as far back as 1984, with the game coming to the company’s 16-bit home console, the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, in 1991. The premise of this game is a rather unique one indeed; for such a straightforward game there is very little to it by way of an actual storyline; the crack is that you take control of the eponymous blue Flicky bird, whose infantile yellow-coated friends, known in the game as “Chirps”, are under threat from hungry cats and lizards. Throughout a couple dozen different maps, you guide Flicky through a series of rooms in which the object is to round up the Chirps and guide them to the designated exit door, while avoiding the aforementioned cat and lizard enemies – named in the game’s Title Screen as “Tiger” and “Iggy” respectively, who also roam the areas, relentlessly chasing after Flicky and not stopping until either they catch him, or Flicky safely guides every last Chirp of the level to the sanctuary of the exit.
Originally coming from a time when video games, especially these simple pick-up-and-play “golden oldie” arcade titles had an emphasis on gameplay that was easy to pick up and understand, and was both challenging and addictive (which it is to some extent in the game of Flicky), one can excuse the makers for leaving the story as an afterthought in this case. It is, however, quite notable in how this old theme of rounding up birds and avoiding enemies and hazards while guiding them to an exit point would be revisited a handful of years later in the game Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island, and in some later Sonic compilations, Flicky has been included as a playable title.
The standard gameplay in Flicky is as thus: a map begins with the exit door (and also Flicky’s entrance door) in centre-screen opening, with our hero entering, and play resuming immediately. Each map is designed with a series of platforms and walls along a looping wrap-around screen, and the Chirps can be seen dotted in random spots around the level. Flicky must walk or jump into them in order to make them follow him (helpfully denoted by a chirping noise they make to signal you’ve got them), and they will follow his every move. As you pick up more and more Chirps, the line that follows Flicky will grow in size. When you get back to the exit door, all Chirps you have guided here will head through it to safety, and you score points (the more Chirps you bring back to the door in a single visit, the higher score you’ll accumulate). When every last Chirp has been goaded to the exit, the level ends, and you’ll also gain a bonus score based on the time taken to clear the map.
With each new level comes new layouts that add to the overall challenge; be they vertical walls you can only jump over from a certain height; shorter ledges with more enemies patrolling between them, or more mazy layouts. You’ll also see flaps in the walls, from which Tiger and Iggy momentarily glance out before entering the level and proceeding to give chase, making your job of guiding the Chirps to the exit an even tougher one. If an enemy touches any of the following Chirps, they will break the line, and the Chirps will stop and begin to wander around the map aimlessly until Flicky touches them again. With more Chirps following you at a single time, this therefore makes it more likely to happen. If Flicky himself comes into contact with Tiger or Iggy, he’ll lose one of his three starting tries; once all your lives are gone, it’s Game Over and back to the beginning. No Continues, no passwords, no excuses – so if you’re looking to fully clear this game, it needs to be done in one complete run, which is definitely no easy feat with some 20-odd maps that make up the whole game!
However, Flicky does have one particular trick up his sleeve to deal with those pesky animals; there are various weapons (e.g. hammers, telephones and teacups) that Flicky can walk into, grab, and hold onto while he’s on the move. With a simple touch of the jump button, Flicky will bowl the weapon directly ahead of him, and it will momentarily knock out any unfortunate feline or reptile in its path for a few seconds, until another one respawns from one of the nearby flaps. However, seeing as you have to jump in order to actually throw the weapon, this means that you can’t carry it up to a higher platform and would have to wait for an enemy to drop down to be on the same level as you.
To break the monotony up between levels, you also get to play a bonus mini-game in which Chirps are launched from seesaws into the air, and Flicky, holding a safety net, has to run around and catch as many of them as possible – the better you do, the more points scored. Nothing special, but it does at least serve as something for the high-score chasers. That more or less sums up the whole gameplay part of it, so with only the map layouts changing and enemies appearing more frequently the further you get on into this rather challenging game, don’t expect anything else to change too much or anything new to appear after the first few minutes.
The control of the game is generally alright, though they do have a slightly light and ‘floaty’ kind of feel to them; with the Left and Right buttons on the D-Pad Flicky will run in the corresponding direction, and when you let go of the button he’ll still keep moving for a couple of seconds; with the A, B or C buttons he’ll jump. Flicky gets a good 3 or 4 seconds’ airtime per jump but because it doesn’t have the more familiar mechanic of your airtime based on how long you keep the button held down, it can also leave you more vulnerable to getting caught by an enemy. It will take a bit of getting used to but the control works well enough once you get used to it, and with running and jump being your only standard moves of this game then you should have it worked out pretty much from the word go!
Graphically this is one of the less stellar efforts on the Mega Drive; as maps come with horrifically bright and ugly green, yellow and purple backgrounds that often clash badly with equally bright platform textures, combining for an effect that does not go easy on the eyes! The sprites and other background props (flaps, doors) are eye-squintingly small and very lacking in detail; I really cannot see the reason for the huge sacrifice in graphical detail and quality from the arcade original when you consider that this port was released in the same year as the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Designs of all of the creatures are as generic and uninspired as it gets, with only their colours helping the player to distinguish each one. Not to mention, they also sometimes blend in with the background colours so unless you’re looking really closely, it can be easy to miss a Chirp or run into Iggy.
Audio, meanwhile, only offers just the one background theme that is a high-key, jolly and quite memorable one, but before long it does get very tiring and repetitive. The only other main background music for the Chirp-catching mini-game is also quite a decent and fitting, if simple piece of music, while beating a level rewards you with another jolly 5-second fare and losing a life with a dipping 7-note piece. Sound effects are basic fare of Chirps singing when you grab them, a rising clobbering sound when you successfully hit an enemy with a projectile, and basic ‘ding’ effects when Chirps walk through the door. Nothing special, but it works well enough.
Overall, Flicky is one of those games that has a certain addiction to it, and it certainly is challenging. For the length of time it would take to clear every unique game on the cartridge you’re looking at around a half-hour or more, and upon doing so you can replay through the same maps again with a higher challenge level (i.e. more, faster enemies). I can only seem to really keep my interest for around 10-15 minutes as the game’s overall repetitive nature can soon become apparent by around that mark, and besides chasing a new high score, there’s little else to offer much by way of replay value. Still, it remains simple, playable and mildly fun to pick up for a few minutes from time to time for any old-school arcade fans – for this reason you could pick it up for your Mega Drive/Genesis console if it’s going for a cheap enough price, though also being available through a few different compilations on newer platforms that’s perhaps as good an option as any.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Flicky (EU, 12/31/91)
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