Flea! - Brand new release for the Dreamcast

 2020. It's not been great, has it? But whilst we all seclude ourselves in our homes, proclaiming how bored we are whilst ignoring our game backlogs, something has been stirring in the Dreamcast Indie scene. The year kicked off with the rather glorious Xeno Crisis - perhaps the finest Indie game yet on the DC, and we've got some delights on their way with the high speed thrills of Arcade Racing Legends from JoshProd, the wonderful Xenocider in all it's 3D glory from Retro Sumus, and Indie masters Senile Team back with the fantastic looking Intrepid Izzy. That's not even mentioning the impending release of Summoning Signals, JoshProd's Indie onslaught with 8(8!) more titles, and almost certainly others that we've simply forgotten to mention! It's a never ceasing cause of amazement for all of us here at the Junkyard that we could see more than a dozen titles added to the library in a matter of months.

It seems though, that even more is on the horizon - including a game which has come as somewhat of a surprise - Flea! which is out now and available from the developers own Etsy page here. A successfully funded Kickstarter project this year, the game was designed for the NES, but has jumped it's way onto our chosen platform, caught us all by surprise, and left us itching to tell you more. I promise that's the last awful Flea pun I'll be making...

Playing as your cute little Flea protagonist Henry, your task is to collect blood from the games 80 levels, blood which is being horded by the greedy King, and is desperately needed by the Refu-fleas. To that end, each unit of blood you collect can, at certain points, be converted to extra lives. It means that very quickly you'll rack up substantial numbers of lives - but that's something you'll most certainly need here. The game creator, Alastair Low (featured on the DCJY before, for the very cool Dungeon Ross), clearly has a fondness for tough NES era platformers, as Flea! is designed with plenty of tricky sections and death is frequent. Luckily, such death is not permanent in Flea's world, for a few seconds later you're back on the hunt for blood at the beginning of the level. Just as quickly as you build the life stock up though, you'll see the numbers going down when you get to one of the games tougher stages.

The game's deaths don't come by way of Uzi wielding parasites or anything so extreme though - here, death will come by way of your continually jumping little critter finding his way into a particularly nasty obstacle. These litter the stages, and whilst only a few syringes seem to be your issue early on, you soon come face to face with other creatures and more extravagant obstacles. Not every creature you meet is a bad guy though - there are plenty of colourful and interesting characters throughout the game to interact with as well.

The game is a tough one to master, in the time honoured 8-bit fashion. However, this toughness doesn't come with unfairness - if you die, it's due to a mistake you've made. Control is generally simple - Henry jumps continually, but you can press the A button to keep his jumps lower (a skill you will require early on in the game), and later on you can dash as well (although I've got to be honest, I've not actually got that far yet! I've never said I'm any good at games...). The main challenge here is to maximise your blood collection whilst navigating the obstacles with well timed jumps. The instant restart of the single screen levels makes any frustration minimal, luckily, but the game does induce a feeling of rage when your life supply dwindles as you fail at a decidedly crafty stage for the umpteenth time - but there's a not insignificant amount of satisfaction when you finally make it. It's a classic risk-reward strategy of gaming of yore, tried and tested, and it works well here, a tribute to the games developer once more.

At times the game does mix things up a little, ditching the single screen approach and going for a forced scrolling platforming experience - a sort of endless runner type affair, only, er, it ends. It shows a little bit of versatility off that makes for a nice change of pace, and again technically, it runs smoothly.  

Visually, it's not going to blow anyone away. It's clearly a NES game, with chunky pixels and bright colours, a look evocative of an age before the Dreamcast, but one which is very much back in fashion. Of course, it looks this way through functionality (being an actual NES game) rather than style alone, but it's competent, cute, fun and cheery. In fact, I'm officially starting a campaign to get Flea! to become the official mascot of the DC indie scene, as I look at his cute little face looking at me from my VMU during the game. The stages vary in their colour schemes - different beasts that the fleas infest - but all have that 8-bit colour and brightness to them, which is very visually appealing. 

There's no denying the games NES roots though. The pixels are colourful, the action is smooth, but this isn't the sort of title that's going to push the hardware. That doesn't matter at all, of course, as the core gameplay is fun and challenging enough to justify itself a place in the library, but we know there will be some out there who will baulk at the idea of a Dreamcast game looking this way. To them, we blow a giant raspberry. Personally, it's a style of game we've not had much of on the console, and I welcome it's arrival. 

I also welcome the chiptune music, so insanely catchy that I found myself humming it to myself on the bus this morning. It perfectly captures the fun, nostalgic retro-ness of the game, and deserves special mention just for that. The packaging is also great - a US style look (despite Lowtek Games being a Scottish based developer), it has a great disc image, and full colour manual (although it's only 2 pages), and the cover is great. For a game none of us were expecting, it's level of professionalism in design was surprising but most welcome. 

The game is available for £30 from Lowtek Games Etsy store, limited to just 200 numbered copies,  and you can find the games creator Alastair on Twitter  so go give him a follow!


 

3 comments:

Anthony817 said...

This is a really cute game, I like the 8 bit graphics!

By the way, has anybody here heard about Atomiswave games now being hacked to work on Dreamcast? Metal Slug 6 has been the first game just this week, and they said ALL Atomiswave games will be able to be "ported" over from that system and made to run on the Dreamcast. It is pretty easy to find it at the usual places. Hoping we get an article here about it seeing as how the Atomiswave has been featured in articles here on the site quite a few times in the past few years.

If you could the unreleased prototypes that were known to be dumped, as well as the official released games. This puts us just at over 30 all new games for the console made between 2003-2009. Some have higher graphical fidelity than most DC games at the time since the hardware was developed for years after the demise of the DC, thus developers could learn to do more with the hardware and get every ounce of performance out if it. Just take a look at the 2004 racing game Faster than Speed, it is an amazing game graphically.

AmigaPd said...

£30 for this!!! Makes the joshprod games look good value.

Tom Charnock said...

Hey Anthony - thanks for this. I only just heard about this work as I've not really been keeping up with the developments due to other commitments, but yeah its amazing stuff :)