Review: Who's That Flying?! (PSP Minis)

The PSP Mini is a concept that has been lost on me. I don't own a PSP, and as a result I've never bothered to browse for, let alone purchase, what I assume are cheaply made Flash games developed for people without iPhones. Hell, I didn't know until two months ago that Minis are playable on the PS3. So perhaps, like me, you assumed that Minis don't have a snowball's chance in the marketplace. doomed to stand in the shadows cast by incessantly advertised blockbusters and buzz-worthy independent games.

Who's That Flying?!  is exactly the sort of game I never expected to come from the Minis platform. It's a polished homage to the shoot-'em-up genre and a fun variation on twitch-based gameplay. This is a quirky and lovable game that is also superbly designed and ends before it wears out its welcome. In a few hours WTF?! managed to reverse the many misconceptions and ignorant thoughts I had about PSP Minis, which is a testament to the developer's ability to find inspiration in such a limited format.

My ego is going to become obese if I keep eating my words, which really sucks.

All you need to know about the story of Who's That Flying?! is that the defender of Earth, appropriately named Earth, is on trial for the destruction that befell our planet during an attack by blob-like creatures called ravagers. The game is played in reverse chronology as Earth testifies to the Galactic Council to clear his good name, while interjecting the monologues of his fellow defenders of the galaxy with sarcastic comments and a general sense of overblown self-importance. Earth certainly loves himself, and the developers make a sly statement by characterizing the guardian of our planet as a vain show-off.

Mediatonic is known for its odd sense of humor in its numerous games for Adult Swim and Must Eat Birds on iPhone/Android, and the team continues to bring a lot of laughs in WTF?! The title's acronym alone makes me chuckle every time I read it. My favorite line of dialogue from the game is childish: the Guardian of Uranus antagonizes Earth throughout the trial, and at one point Earth cuts him off by saying, "Hello Uranus...decided to 'BUTT in?'" The writers play to their strengths in WTF?!, and as a result the game is, for my tastes, much better than typical Japanese shmup (short form for shoot-'em-up) titles, which are generally devoid of personality and insistent upon rapid and relentless gameplay.

WTF?! is very easy, which means those looking for a challenging campaign won't be happy. The one caveat to the general simplicity of the game is the oddly balanced levels. Specifically the Mexico level is much more difficult than the world after it. As each new area should be harder than the last, I was very confused about the incongruent levels of difficulty. Furthermore, the final boss is a pushover, and for games of this style it's detrimental to the overall experience. Yet WTF?! isn't entirely devoid of trials, and the ample challenge mode makes up for any shortcomings. Aimed at hardcore players, the challenge mode is sort of ridiculous. Each challenge is unique, but only the best players and shmup veterans will get past the first few challenges. Persistence doesn't seem to matter. I'm not very good at these games, so I tried my best but died far too often to stick with it.

Each location has four stages, the last of which pits Earth against a very large boss unique to the region. WTF?! mixes things up by sending Earth to Mexico, Russia, Tokyo and the Big Apple itself, and even though the background animation and color palette for each stage is noticeably repetitive, it's a forgivable oversight for a Minis title. And truthfully it's quite hard to pay attention to the backdrops when hundreds of ravagers are doing their best to eat the planet's entire population.

In a clever twist on typical shmup gimmicks, WTF?! has no traditional health or shield bar. Because Earth himself is more or less invincible, the game instead tracks the health of a city. If too many ravagers get by your beams, blasts and punches, the game will end. Medals are awarded based on performance; good news for the obsessive compulsive gamers out there.

It's a good thing that Mediatonic is applying its Flash title roots and mastery of bite-sized gaming experiences to a new, and monetarily viable platform -- outside of mobile phones, of course. If I hadn't had a chance to play Who's That Flying?! I'd still be scoffing at all the other PSP Minis. The quality of this particular title makes it impossible for me to ignore Minis in the future.

Be it the toilet humor or the crisp visuals, WTF?! is a well-written and uncomplicated salute to fans of shoot-'em-up games.

Recommended for:

  • The hilarious writing
  • Short but sweet stick-flicking action
  • Gorgeous and crisp art style
  • Because it's a shmup that's not really a shmup...but sort of is anyway -- let's support developers that think outside of the box
  • PSP users in need of a simple on-the-go gaming fix

Not Recommended for:

  • $5.99 is asking a bit much for the short campaign
  • Challenge mode is relevant for a select few
  • If you don't have a PSP, the allure of a game meant primarily for portable play will be lost on you

Who's That Flying?! is a PSP Minis title developed by independent UK developer Mediatonic. The game is available on the PlayStation Network marketplace for $5.99. A copy was provided to the reviewer by the developer. The reviewer completed the core game and tried his luck in the Infinite Mode. He died very fast. The reviewer also sampled the Challenge Mode, and in doing so he realized he's not very good at shoot-'em-up titles.

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