Game Mechanic Studios’ ambitious iOS title doesn’t quite take flight, and instead falls more like a lead balloon…
High Flyer Death Defyer is essentially a sky diving game, putting you in the boots of the hero character Aareon. Except instead of a parachute, you have a jet pack strapped to your back. You must launch Aareon from Avatar-like floating islands in the sky, and plummet downwards, diving through rings and collecting items and treasure on your way. Early levels see you playing through training sessions, each with an objective to complete; such as ‘dive through three hoops and safely land on a platform’.
These training levels seem to go on forever, and feel like overkill. For a while I thought this was the main extent of the game, that is, lots of objective based levels. Instead, the game could have presented this in a much simpler and more refined way, perhaps by taking you through the basics of flight, controls, landing and item collection all within one long fall.
Eventually, however, you are presented with the main crux of the game, a surprisingly deep and ambitious tale of an oppressed alien race, an evil overlord, and the relationship between our man Aareon and a female alien he calls Charisma. All of this story is told between levels in a comic book style, and, to be honest, can be a bit heavy going. While the tale is told well, it feels like it’s been tacked on to the game, to perhaps give it a feeling of more depth past the main gameplay experience. Instead, I felt it served only to hold you back from valuable play-time.
Once you do get playing again, your mission is to reach the end of the level intact. From here you are treated to yet more story and moved on to the next level. Getting to the end of each level though is only a small part of the game. On your travels downwards you can pick up various items such as coins and treasure, both in flight and on various landing platforms dotted throughout the sky. Treasure chests can also be seeked out, on which you must land. This plays out like a mini-game of sorts, requiring you to activate nodes on the treasure chests surface while it spins around. You must move around on foot without falling off, much like running on a rolling log on a river.
Collectables, as well as discovery points earned by visiting as many floating islands as possible, all add up to improve your score for that level. The score has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome or momentum of the story, and instead adds an arcade element and sense of achievement to proceedings.
While in-flight you will come across various hazards, such as turbines, lasers, cut throat boomerangs, and robotic monsters. These can all be avoided by steering clear or diving quickly passed them. The main enemy within a level however is the time limit. Here it is presented as a satellite-based laser system. Once the countdown reaches zero, it will activate and blow you out of the sky. You can increase the time limit by passing through special rings, or simply attempt to reach the levels’ end before the time runs out. This didn’t pose much of challenge, as I found I was able to survive without being blasted once, simply by landing on platforms as often as possible which resets the time limit.
Speaking of robotic monsters, the title screens giant red mechanical dragon (which looks a bit like a Pokemon) is in fact your friend in this story. It acts as the platform on which you must land on to complete the majority of levels. From here he flies you off to the next stage. A huge disappointment though, is the fact that at no point in the game can you actually ride this beast. Instead all your encounters with it – bar actually landing on it – are shown in the comic style cutscenes. I would have loved to see some Panzer Dragoon-style levels to vary the gameplay.
Story and gameplay aside, the game is marred by poorly executed controls. Taking control of Aareon amongst the clouds should be a joy, but instead is horribly frustrating. As you free fall you can move Aareon forwards, back, left and right with a control pad, as well as activate a fast dive with a button press. However, what seem like simple controls actually fail for the most part to get you where you need to go. Even passing though rings is a chore, especially if you look like you will overshoot it and try and slowdown, only to come up short and miss it entirely. This lack of precision is most notable in the training sessions where you must pull off the required objectives to pass. Miss just one of these and you’ll fail. I found it almost impossible to pass though multiple speed rings while keeping Aaron in a straight line, making the task more pot luck than skill. Maybe the developers where aiming for more realism, where in actual real free-fall flight, you would be limited with your control ability. However, if that is the case then it just doesn’t work in a game like this which is more arcade than sim.
Despite the story having some interesting moments, I feel that the game does not need it. If they stripped back all the story and made the game more of an arcade experience I think it would have worked better. However, this would have not have fixed the glaring problems with the controls, which sucks the enjoyment out of the experience almost immediately.
It’s a shame too, as the game certainly has potential with some great in-game presentation and a good sense of speed. Fix the controls and refine the experience, and we might see a solid and unique game in our hands.