Flywrench is from the ‘fail quickly and often’ school of game design. If you think that N+ or Super Meat Boy were too easy, then you’ll love it. Even if you’re not inclined to such a game, Flywrench is interesting: it’s an old-new game, polished-up and Steam-released from the Artist/Game maker Mark Essen. Essen was an early figure in the indie gaming scene, and Flywrench was one of his first games to get noticed. How does the new, swankier, updated game compare to it’s original (semi-finished?) form?
First things first though: Flywrench a well made game – no doubt – but with a very niche audience. If you’re looking for a relaxing little indie game, stop reading. The game is hard going, and relies entirely on your skill. To some, this probably sounds like heaven, but the way it handles this is arguably less than ideal. To say that Flywrench is a skill based game is only minimally true. The skill it teaches you is how to do the level exactly as it needs to be done: there is very little margin of error, and it doesn’t allow for a creative application of your abilities.
It’s frenetic pace and harsh visuals rob it of a key element that draws many into other similar games such as Super Meat Boy and N+. In those games, you are given a moment to rest, plan, and execute strategies. FlyWrench gives you no such courtesy, and each level forces you to myopically scramble about, eyes jittering, taking in as much as possible through a keyhole view. The games aesthetic design does grate somewhat with the underlying enjoyment that the game offers.
The way that Flywrench rewards you for your effort felt particularly problematic, and this is probably it’s principle issue as entertainment. In the classic game N+, a comparable skill-based, quick-reset indie game, the reward comes in the form of seeing your achievement replayed back to you – displaying the hard-won reality that you really are a super ninja. This, coupled with a planning element, makes you feel like you are building knowledge and skill. In Flywrench, the reward is too minimal for anyone other than masochists. The lightning-fast death is far too harsh, and time and time again I found my reward too brief. You can get a little buzz after spending 10 minutes on a single level, only to find that it gets farted away in the blink of an eye – oops, looks like you’re on to the next, even harder level. The game would appear to inspire a sense of flow, but the sheer pace of it all leads more to daydreaming frustration.
Visuals and gameplay aside, the music plays a big role in the experience. I’m a total fan of the music, and the genres in the soundtrack – I grew up on Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, etc, so this sort of thing is my bag. And yet, I couldn’t wholly say that the music is A Good Thing.
As a stand-alone mixtape, it’s awesome, and thematically it seems to blend with the spacey, colour displacing vibe. Most interesting, and a little disconcerting, was the inclusion of tracks with rappers/audience noises. It’s quite unique and peculiar for this, and it’s not de facto a bad thing. However, you soon start to think of it as a tacked-on soundtrack, rather than music composed for ambience, and it makes you wonder: why not put your own jams over this? It rams home the growing trend in small budget games of including a ‘soundtrack’ – that the music is this separate element which compliments the game. If done right it’s wonderful. In the case of Flywrench, it really broke me out of the flow, and I found it jarring. It forces you away from immersion, and robs the game of it’s ‘game’ status somewhat. It feels like a good idea, but it’s dashed with a seed of cynicism, and ultimately it makes the game a trinket for distraction, rather than a complex work of art.
Visually, the game works very hard to be just the right amount of eye-gouging without being actually hard to look at. It’s a master stroke for playability, considering how much your eyes will be glued to the screen. The inclusion of different ‘themes’ is great for people who are colour blind, although I wish I had the choice to alter them from the get-go, and not need to arbitrarily unlock the option. By the time I earned a better colour set, switching to it was a headache.
After all this, I’m left wondering.
Is it an improvement over the earlier iteration of itself? In terms of mass appeal, no doubt: the ‘helmet mode’, the hip soundtrack, the smoothed-out graphical style, and the online features are examples. In terms of it being a ‘game for games sake’, then I think that’s up for grabs. If you look at videos on YouTube of it’s original style, it was rougher, simpler, but more conceptually tight. It was brash, a big f***-you, an art-game punk-punch to the nose. It was an early example of lo-fi, devil-may-care indie gaming. The graphics and sound were originally harsh, but it was honest – a throw away headache, the buzz from half-cut pill. It’s lost some of its freneticism, and rounded off the edges, and it’s weird to see it ‘update’ itself. It’s sad to watch that history be swept under the rug. Of course, I’m bringing this history to the game as I play it, so in terms of pure entertainment, take it with a pinch of salt.
Criticism aside, the final-form of the game is still compelling, and I suspect that if it’s your cup of tea, then it’s one of the best brews to be had.
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