Who’s That Flying?! Review – Wacky Tremendous Fun!
Who’s That Flying?! is the second Mini from Mediatonic, the makers of the popular Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. While popular, I didn’t think too much of it, because while it had nice production values, it had about five minutes of gameplay. WTF?! also happens to be a side-scrolling shooter, the fourth one we’ve gotten in the last couple months or so, following Ace Armstrong, Flying Hamster, and Apache Overkill.
So I was somewhat leery and perhaps a bit jaded going into this. But, I was pleasantly surprised that not only did they manage to keep the production values and humor of M(P)SMP, they added a lot more gameplay. And, that gameplay adds something fun and new to the side-scrolling shooter genre, or at least new to me.
You play as a superhero, the Guardian of Earth, on trial at the Intergalactic Council for Space Justice for your conduct during a recent invasion of Earth by Doom Beasts. The story is told in between levels by fairly lengthy animated cutscenes. Screw up a stage, and you’re found guilty. Finish a level, and you progress in the story.
It’s not as clever as M(P)SMP, and indeed the humor is quite lowbrow, but how it’s presented is what is truly amusing. If Mediatonic ever decides to give up making games, they could have a bright future in animated comedy shows. You can go back and watch the cutscenes as an option in the credits menu, and I have several times.
The very basics are the same as the typical side-scrolling shooter. You fly, the screen scrolls horizontally, you shoot a lot of stuff. But the gimmick is that you can’t die. Enemies merely slow you down a little. Instead of trying to stay alive, your goal is to not let any enemies get past you. You can let up to fifty go by before losing the stage, but how many you let through determines what sort of medal you get.
Mediatonic calls this “Side-Scrolling Shooter Meets Tower Defence” (being British and all), but I call it “Brilliant.” I don’t know if they invented it for this game or if someone did it before them, but in either case it’s a very clever and underused idea. Essentially it lets both skilled and non-skilled play the same game. Someone like me will just be happy to make it through the stage (once I managed it with one left), while really good players will try to get a gold medal or even perfect score.
More than anything, I am reminded of the old arcade shooters like Galaga and Gyruss, where you would have bonus stages where the enemies would fly around the screen in a certain pattern, and you would try to shoot them all. Here it’s a bit trickier; you have to remember the pattern and also deal with enemies actually shooting at you, even if it’s not fatal.
Some of these enemies die simply if you shoot them enough, while others are really more mid-bosses. These require something a bit extra, basically a “Quick Time Event,” or QTE, where you first have to shoot the mid-boss a certain amount. Then, the game tells you to press and hold the R button, and after doing so you must tap the X button rapidly. Once you’ve tapped X enough, you perform a finishing move which kills it (and all the other enemies nearby).
The controls are fairly standard and not user-configurable, with the D-pad or analog nub to move around the screen and X to fire. Holding X down autofires. You can also tap X to recover from being hit by an enemy more quickly than you normally would. And, the more enemies you shoot, the more your super-weapon gets charged. You unleash it by hitting the  button. Either it just fires a lot faster or it turns into a solid beam, but in either case it dramatically helps you. Also, when you first trigger it, time slows down briefly for the enemies, so you can often go back and get an enemy that otherwise would have eluded you.
Freud could have written a book on the appearance of the enemies in the game, collectively called Doom Beasts. The most common type is the Ravager, which is the one that simply tries to get past you. It’s basically just a slightly open mouth with teeth. The other enemies are similar in design, except they either shoot at you or in some cases try to ram you. Each level introduces new types, though the old ones still appear sometimes.
In Story Mode there are four levels based on real world cities (New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Moscow), each broken up into three stages, plus another. The first two stages of a level are pretty easy, as there isn’t a boss battle. The last stage does feature a boss battle at the end. Here it gets a bit trickier and is probably the only part of the game I don’t like, as you have a three minute time limit to kill the boss.
Otherwise the boss battles are fairly straightforward. I presume the time limit is there because you can’t die. I’m not sure I beat any the first time I tried, mostly because it took me a while to figure out how to damage the boss in the first place. You still occasionally have to deal with Ravagers that get spawned by the boss, so you can also lose the level by letting them get past you.
There is also Infinite Mode, where you simply play until you’ve let 50 enemies past you. Each time you complete all the stages of a level, you unlock that city in Infinite Mode. Each one has its own high score table as well.
In addition to that, Challenging Mode opens up when you beat Story Mode. This is quite challenging indeed; basically you have to complete a stage without letting any enemy past you. “Frustrating Mode” would be a better name for it, as it’s even harder than the original Ace Armstrong (though only slightly).
The graphics are a little sparse. Granted, it’s a cartoonish style, but there’s really no detail in each city, just the same buildings going past. Same with the enemies—all basically just fearsome-looking meatballs. Some with mouths, some with horns, some shooting green goo or electricity.
My main problem with Mediatonic’s previous title was the shortness of its story mode. They’ve certainly addressed it here, where it takes about an hour to finish. Each stage is three minutes, plus another three for the boss fight, so each level is twelve minutes total. And on top of that, there is replay value in the other modes, as well as trying to get medals to unlock things.
I do think there was room to add an additional difficulty level. I finished Story Mode with little problem, only having to do the boss stages twice. So perhaps a bit too easy. Even though those more skilled at shooters could try to finish levels without letting a single enemy go by, that doesn’t quite replace getting further into a game as motivation. Perhaps something more like Hard Mode in Flying Hamster, where the levels were remixed to be harder? While it’s true you have Challenging Mode, you’d have to be extremely hardcore to enjoy that. A slightly harder main mode would be enjoyable to most.
Still, that’s really quibbling, because, as is, they’ve done an outstanding job. Not only is WTF?! a lot of fun, it manages to bring something new to the side-scrolling shooter crowd, and with a lot of style.