What is a Flywrench anyway?
I’m not going to lie to you or myself. I had to play Flywrench on the easy difficulty in order to save what sanity remained after completing games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. Don’t get me wrong: I love difficult games that punish you until you finally beat that level that you’ve been dying countless times on in the matter of just a handful of minutes. But I’m getting older and my reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Why do we torture ourselves with games like this? They aren’t the prettiest games, and they certainly aren’t what I would call a fun time. I think I rediscovered the reason why a select group of gamers adore these masochistic titles while playing Flywrench. It’s the feeling of gratification that you get when you finally understand what the game has been trying to teach you the last few stages. That satisfying “click” that goes off in your brain that can only be topped by the euphoria that washes over you when completing a particularly challenging level. Maybe these games are fun…I don’t know. I’m disappointed in myself. I hate the people that made this game. I hate everything. Oh, wait! I did it!! I love myself and this game is awesome!! On to the next level!!!
Flywrench is the latest title by developer Masshof, whose name may ring a bell if you’ve ever played 2014’s Nidhogg. In Flywrench, players take control of a spaceship that starts out in the far edge of our solar system near the planet Pluto. The goal is to complete a set of stages that each planet contains to gain access to the next planet and eventually make it to the Sun. Flywrench contains a story that is told through encouraging messages and slogans, which oftentimes turn cryptic, that you will receive in between planets. Each planet consists of an average of 20 stages that you will die thousands of times on.
Like any good game, Flywrench will teach you what you need to know as you progress through it. It does so really well from the start; that is until you get to the midway point of Uranus (that didn’t sound right). Here is when Flywrench decides to turn the difficulty from about 3 to 10 and it will make you feel like a total waste of space. I was cursing myself, the controller, my TV’s input lag, my cat, and the thermostat in the house for making it too warm. I was frustrated and furious. I turned the game off and played something else. The next morning I started to play Flywrench again and the aforementioned “click” happened. Suddenly I knew what to do and I completed the stage that had given me so much trouble the night before. Each stage after that flowed like melted butter and controlling the ship felt like 2nd nature, that is until I made it to the next planet – Saturn.
Like most challenging games, in order to not go completely crazy you need to at least feel like your in control. The ship controls very well. Pressing nothing will make the ship just stop and basically turn off – falling toward the edge of a stage. In order to get moving you must press “X” on the PlayStation controller which will also make the ship fold up and turn red, and pressing the square button will make your ship turn into a greenish propeller-like shape, also slowing it down a bit. The left analog stick will steer the ship but only if you are in motion after pressing the X button. Continuously pressing X while controlling the ship with the analog stick felt like playing Flappy Bird, with each press giving the ship a bounce-like movement.
You will begin each stage inside a shape and you must get your ship from one area of the shape to the other. The difficulty lies in not only the sharp turns the shape makes but also the obstacles that come between you and the final destination. From the offset these obstacles come in the form of colored walls that can only be penetrated by holding down a button on the controller. Red walls can only be passed while holding X and yellow while holding square. White walls can be passed only when pressing nothing at all. This sounds easy at first but later levels will start to introduce moving walls and flying particles. Pink walls must be avoided at all costs. If you touch the outer walls of the stage your ship will bounce and cause you to lose complete control. If at any point you hit a wall without holding down it’s corresponding button, you will die and the stage will start all over again. Like Super Meat Boy, a loading screen doesn’t follow death. You will be thrown back into the stage immediately, and if you’re not ready, you’ll be dead in seconds flat.
My gripe with Flywrench is not with its difficulty, but how it manages to make me feel I completed a stage on luck alone. The ship controls well except when bouncing off walls. Each bounce felt different and would send me in different directions. You will need to use these bounces in later levels because the only way to pass a pink wall is to bounce over it. Sometimes I’d bounce too far and other times I didn’t seem to bounce at all. I’d still be overjoyed considering I just completed a stage but at the same time I’d shrug my shoulders because I didn’t really know how I completed it. Bouncing off walls also seemed to make the game glitch out and its bugs will rear their ugly heads. My ship would manage to fall through the wall on a handful of occasions and I’d be traveling outside of the stages boundaries. If this happened I’d have to just let the ship drop to the bottom of the screen and then the stage would start over again. Speaking of bugs, I also ran into an issue when pausing the game. When I would unpause to return to play I would be greeted with nothing but a black screen. This didn’t cause me to lose any progress but having to return to the menu screen and then stage select screen to get going again was a bit of a hassle.
Flywrench’s music is a mix of good and bad. It really depends on how much trouble a particular planet is giving you and if you happen to like or dislike the music of that planet. A mix of techno and jazz is what you’ll be listening to while guiding your ship around many obstacles and more often than not I’d be moving my head to the music. The music for Uranus drove me a bit nuts and unfortunately that was the planet that gave me the most trouble. I felt like I was waiting for my wife outside of a dressing room of a trendy clothes store in the mall. The kind of store where you can hear the music thumping as you walk past and feel sorry for the workers as they have to listen to that stuff all day. Overall I did enjoy the music that most planets had to offer.
On the graphical front there really isn’t much to say. It looks like an old Atari game, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s very simplistic and easy on the eyes. The stage-select screen is a cool Atari 2600 view of our solar system and will make any old school gamer feel good inside. The walls and obstacles of the stages are very vibrant and made me feel like I was playing an old Vectrex or even Asteroids arcade cabinet. The options menu will let you change the background color to several different shades but I stuck with the original black. The game doesn’t need to look stunning and it knows it.
Besides the main story mode you will find time trials tucked in the extras menu. Also in the extras menu is a sound test option where you can listen to the game’s many different music tracks. If a song is driving you crazy on any particular level you have the option to turn it off. Here is where you will find the option to change the difficulty with the easy setting making your ship smaller and able to touch the outer walls of a stage without pressing square.
Like the game, rating Flywrench is not as easy as it seems. I hated it at first but then something clicked and I loved it, but then I hated it again. Sometimes I felt when I died it was completely my fault and other times I’d blame the odd bounces and ship’s movements. Something just felt off, but only sometimes. The game’s bugs would also stop my flow and cause unneeded frustration. Overall, it’s a fun title but only in short bursts.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Messhof ; Developer: Messhof; Players: 1 ; Released: February 14th, 2017 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Flywrench given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.