Review: The Blue Flamingo

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Blue Flamingo!? What the hell is a Blue Flamingo? Good question, and the answer is actually very simple. (And no, it is not some weird genetically engineered breed of the actual bird.) The Blue Flamingo that the game gets its title from is the name of the little ship you pilot through this out of the blue shooter quietly crafted in a collaborative effort between Pid and Shelter developer Might & Delight and model builder Anders Hellström.

More in the mold of Capcom’s vintage 1942/1943 arcade games than an all out bullet hell shmup like Ikaruga, The Blue Flamingo is a play-until-you-die vertically scrolling shoot ’em up built entirely out of miniature models that were handcrafted and green screened just for this game. When the game begins two paragraphs of text appear stating that every now and then pilots from all over the world assemble to compete in an aerial shootout and see who takes top honors on the score table. From there, you hit play, you fly around, you shoot things stage after stage until the ship’s health gauge runs out (no health pick-ups or repair options here), and then your score posts to the leaderboard. This is just about as no-frills as shmups come.

The main draw is, of course, the visual style. It’s hard to play the game and not become immediately smitten with the obvious level of craftsmanship that went into building the environment set and all of the accompanying props, lighting the scene, recording the top-down flyover camera perspective, and incorporating all the little details that help to capture the player’s imagination, like trains and cars being pulled along by magnets and strings, or firecrackers being used for the explosive pyrotechnic effects. Watching the behind the scenes video embedded at the bottom of this review should give a greater appreciation for the creative energy that went into this project.

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Might and Delight games always have a signature art style with a distinct soundtrack to match, so it’s no surprise that the music in this game is also well done. The bluesy, loungy vibe is somehow upbeat and relaxing at the same time. I especially like how each level kicks off with a marching band snare drum cadence, which always gets me in the mood for the flight ahead.

Unfortunately the model-based format, coupled with the fact that the game was built from start to finish in around four months, seems to have limited the amount of depth and variety Might & Delight could ultimately achieve. For starters, since the game takes place on one set, there is only one environment that is replayed over and over again. Levels alternate between daytime and nighttime, which does at least offer a slight change of scenery as flying over the craggy desert terrain and waterside city during the day is a different sensorial experience compared to getting a bird’s-eye view of a dark mountainside and illuminated cityscape when the sun goes down. However, there still isn’t enough of a differentiation to prevent the aesthetic, as charming and detailed as it is, from becoming stale after only a couple flybys. That being said, enemy variety is kept mostly fresh. At least through 10 stages, which is as far as I have managed to survive on my best run, I’ve noticed a new enemy type being introduced every other stage or so.

Of greater significance, it seems that all the effort on the modeling side took away from time spent on developing and tuning a fully realized system of mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, the core elements of a classic arcade shooter are all here and work very well. The controls are tight and responsive, the enemy types all fire, move, and enter the screen in unique ways that require classic pattern recognition techniques, and the punchy gunfire and explosions make the shooting feel very satisfying. But except for moving up, down, left and right, holding a button to fire, and every once in a while pressing another button to let off a screen-clearing mega bomb that operates on a cooldown timer, there isn’t anything else going on. No power-ups, no alternate gun types or bullet spray patterns, no nothing.

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Even the scoring and upgrade system is undercooked. Points in the form of money are earned by shooting down hostiles and collecting gold coins left behind as a bonus for eliminating all enemies that appear in small groupings that periodically enter the screen. Between stages cash can either be spent on upgrading the Blue Flamingo’s guns or bomb, or saved to build your score with a cumulative interest rate. This system is obviously meant to add an element of risk/reward, but it simply doesn’t come through in a meaningful way because the benefits of upgrading are so negligible that there is little incentive to waste taking away from your high score and lowering the interest payout. My highest score so far–I’m currently #19 on the leaderboards–was gained in the only run I did without spending a single point on upgrades. I honestly don’t know what the upgrades even do, because there isn’t a description of what specifically is being improved. I certainly couldn’t tell that the ship was doing any more raw damage when I’d spend money to upgrade the guns to a power level of plus four or five compared to my top scoring run when I didn’t upgrade at all. From what I could tell the upgrades increased rate of fire and bomb cool down, but the performance boost felt too minimal to make the payoff worthwhile.

One neat touch, though, is how every level ends in a target practice bonus round, in which red and green orbs fly by and extra points are earned based on how many of the red orbs you are able to shoot and change green. Conversely, shooting orbs that are already green turns them red, so you need to be careful with your aim. With each level completed, the target practice flyby speed ramps up.

I can’t lie and say that a small part of me isn’t disappointed that the M&D crew didn’t push to be more inventive with the gameplay to match the creativity and toy-like hobbyist wonder of the graphical style. But this is a small, experimental type of a game that clearly is meant to be experienced as an artistic passion project rather than some marvel of innovation, so with appropriate expectations the lack of variety is easier to forgive. Despite its misfires, The Blue Flamingo is a fun little shooter with solid core functionality and a groovy atmosphere. There is a chance you will only attempt one or two runs and then never feel compelled to play again given how one dimensional the whole thing is, but if you like classic quarter-pumping shmups and easily succumb to the addictive nature of score attack replay, The Blue Flamingo is worth a shot.

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Pros:
+ Handcrafted miniature graphics are charming and rich with detail
+ Awesome music and sound effects
+ Gets the shmup gameplay fundamentals right
+ Good beat-your-high-score replay hook

Cons:
– Scoring system lacks the risk/reward impact it was striving for
– Ship upgrades feel useless
– No powers-ups or alternate weapon types
– Flying over the same model environment gets old

Game Info:
Platform: Windows PC via Steam
Publisher: Might and Delight
Developer: Might and Delight
Release Date: 11/18/2014
Genre: Shoot-’em-up
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!