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Old 08-29-2011, 06:51 AM   #1
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Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 83: Flee Buster

Donít stop running. Donít look back. That ship is behind you, itís always behind you and itís always getting closer. If you stop, youíre done for. I donít know what they do to people in those ships but I know I donít want to be in one. Donít stop running. Keep moving. <switch.> Take those turns tighter, youíre slowing down every time you go around a corner! How many creatures are chasing me? It was four, but I think itís five now. Canít spare the time to check; if one of them catches me it wonít matter. Donít hit the spikes. Donít slow down. Keep moving. <switch.> The last jump was impossible, yet here I am on the other side of it. Donít look down donít look down donít look down! Gotta keep moving up. The exit is somewhere up there and the fire below me isnít going to put itself out. Just thirty or forty more impossible jumps to go. Easy, right? Keep moving!

Another Ludum Dare competition (the 48 hour game dev marathon from which weíve pulled several of our previous featured games) is in the voting stage, this time with the theme of ďEscape.Ē It was initially my intention to do a round-up of some favorites for you to check out this week, but then I realized that there are almost six hundred entries to this round of Ludum Dare(!), and I spent all morning Sunday playing Flee Buster. As soon as Iím done writing this, Iíll probably be going back to play it some more. [Edit: Actually I just kept playing it while I was writing.] So I guess Iíd better just tell you about that one, and call it a success.

ChevyRayís take on ďEscapeĒ is a pulse-pounding tale of three very different characters in terrible peril. In the first, a man flees from the tractor beam of a giant spaceship, running and jumping through traditional platforming levels as fast as he can. The second switches to a top-down maze of tight corridors where a tiny ship must navigate around deadly spikes and evade an ever-increasing number of pursuers. The last mimics the final level of a Metroid game (or, if you prefer your game references a bit more casual, Doodle Jump, I suppose), as a nimble frog leaps higher and higher out of the grasp of a rising flame.

These guys really need your help.

On their own, any one of these three would be a suitable diversion, but probably nothing terribly special. Theyíre solidly designed levels with the same sort of muscle memory appeal that games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV have - you can feel yourself getting better at them each time you fail and try again - but it wouldnít be nearly so compelling without the hook. Flee Busterís hook is that you only control each of these characters for a few seconds at a time.

In addition to the time pressure of being chased and needing to constantly press forward while avoiding each levelís hazards, a tiny bar at the bottom of the screen measures the time youíll have to control each scenario. When it runs out, youíre thrust immediately into the next one, no matter whatís going on at the time. (It will, mercifully, let you land if youíre mid-jump when it runs out.) This means that at any given time youíre not just thinking about the character youíre controlling; youíre thinking about the one youíre about to control. And youíre thinking about leaving the one youíre controlling in a safe position so that once youíre done controlling the third character and you come back to this one, youíll be ready to proceed. Itís a maddening, slightly insane loop, and itís great. The need to think contextually about three characters while reacting to the immediate circumstances of one adds just enough complexity that the game feels a bit cerebral as well as reflex-driven, making success that much more satisfying.

I hope you like this screen. You'll see it a lot.

Of course, success will be hard to come by, should you come by it at all. Flee Buster is tough, and will sometimes punish you in ways that feel unfair. A single mistake with any one character means game over for all three, and while the game is short by design it does mean that youíre pretty much going for a perfect run, and only that, right from the start. There are tokens strewn along the path in all three levels, which serve as a scoring mechanism, but I canít imagine any but the most dedicated will want to replay the game to get them all after completing it with less than 100%. Thereís also a noticeable disparity in the amount of player agency in the three scenarios: the top-down ship level has enemies you can ďtrickĒ a bit, and power-ups to pick up that buy you extra time, while the side scrolling and vertical jumping levels rely solely on perfect platforming. That's not really a complaint - theyíre designed to be different - but it would have been nice to see more depth in the precision platforming sections.

Still, for a free game designed over the course of 48 hours, those are absolutely negligible issues. Flee Buster is a tight, addictive experience that requires nothing but your web browser and some free time (though I did end up using a gamepad, as my skills with the arrow keys arenít what they used to be), and you should definitely check it out. The aesthetics are effective but very simple; this oneís all about the gameplay. Congratulations to ChevyRay for knocking out a very solid little game with a clever concept in almost no time at all; I wish him luck in the competition!

Flee Buster is...
  • a tightly controlled, clever mix of several classic gameplay styles.
  • extremely unforgiving, but fast and short enough that it usually doesnít feel punishing.
  • stressful; it develops a surprising amount of tension in a very short period of time.
  • a game I will probably never 100%, but I will beat it. So help me, I will.
Maybe you will too. Flee Buster works everywhere Flash does, so head on over to ChevyRayís website and find out!

Done with this one? Want more? Check out the complete archive of Free and Worth Every Penny.
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