Who's That Flying? proves once again that Mediatonic are at the forefront of PlayStation Minis development. The game's fusion of different gameplay mechanics help to elevate the package beyond its simple "side-scroller" core. Lavish presentation and doses of genuinely comical self-referential humour compliment the title further, making it an essential addition to any Minis library.
Who's That Flying?! is Mediatonic's follow-up to their Minis must-have debut, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. The games aren't connected in gameplay or narrative, but Mediatonic's whimsical art direction and super self-referential humour links the titles in spirit at least.
The craftily titled WTF?! is best explained by Mediatonic themselves, as the game's XMB description pitches the title as a "side scrolling shooter mixed with tower defence (with courtroom drama and intrigue!) doused in sheer awesomeness... and then set on fire!" While hyperbolic, the pitch isn't far from the truth. In short: WTF?! is a bit brilliant, and you should almost certainly play it.
Deceptive in appearance, Who's That Flying?! is a simple retro-shooter in terms of chief gameplay mechanics. You play as the Guardian Of Earth, a Power Ranger-esque cartoon character with a penchant for smarmy commentary and the celebrity life-style. Earth's not earned his fame through a six-week stint on Big Brother however; this is the guy responsible for protecting our humble planet from all manner of space threats.
The game opens with Earth in the dock, sentenced with allegations that suggest he's not been protecting the planet to the best of his ability. Each of the five main campaign missions are broken down into a sequence of memories — each a testimony of evidence in Earth's favour.
Gameplay is a simple but fluid affair. Earth can move freely across the screen and fire projectiles with the X button. While every inch a retro shooter in presentation, WTF?! uses the key concepts of Tower Defence to construct its fail mechanic. The main objective is to stop Ravagers — black, toothy monsters — from crossing the left-hand extremity of the screen. Missing an enemy will cause a heart to be deducted from the level total. If 50 Ravagers are missed, it's game-over, so it's important to stay on top of the blighters.
Ravagers are the consistent enemy type throughout the game. These are the primary target in order to ensure the progression criteria is met. Other enemies are introduced throughout the campaign, but these are often used as a method of hindering the player from attacking Ravagers. Like Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, the art direction is fantastic. There's a whimsical science fiction vibe to the presentation, with b0sses representing the game's chief artistic draw.
Each of the five campaign missions are broken down into three levels of increasing difficulty. Each of the final stages includes a boss-fight, which are usually the highlight of the mission. While the bosses can be punishing at first, it's important to learn their attack patterns and weaknesses. It's also worth taking advantage of Earth's weapon upgrades. As successful attacks are chained together, Earth is able to unleash a suite of power ups such as turbo-fire and beam lasers. Using the power-up to earn another is a key component to WTF?!'s learning curve - and it makes the combat extremely fluid and satisfying.
The campaign is tied together by a sequence of comical cut-scenes in which Earth and the other planet's guardians discuss the protagonist's court case. Like Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess there are lashings of self-referential quips and jokes, which are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The humour bleeds into the main game too, as the Tetris theme is subtly mixed into the game's main soundtrack when the campaign takes Earth to Moscow.
Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess' biggest flaw was its short campaign. WTF?!'s is slightly longer — lasting about 2-3 hours depending on ability. Medals make up much of the game's replay value; but the campaign is beefed by some repetition. Personally, we would have settled for a few less levels in WTF?!'s campaign, but given the criticism for Monsters' length we understand why Mediatonic decided to pad the game out somewhat.
Having said that, the game's introduction of Challenge and Infinite modes substantially increase the title's replay value. Infinite mode is pretty much as you'd expect - with free reign on each of the game's campaign missions attributed to a high-score contest. It is Challenge mode that's got us most excited though - implementing unique rules on the core WTF?! levels to provide additional challenge and hours of extra gameplay.
Unlockable magazines and trophies round out a substantially beefy package, despite the "Minis" ethos. Who's That Flying?! provides entertainment for a good few hours, though its simplistic gameplay is approachable enough to make it a satisfying diversion during half-hour lunch breaks and short train rides.
With the greatest of respect to other Minis on the platform, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess was probably the first must-have title from the service. Age Of Zombies and Coconut Dodge represent the second and third essentials — but Mediatonic's raised the stakes once again. Who's That Flying?! is simplistic enough to fit the Minis banner, but important enough to make it an essential PlayStation purchase. This would stand up as a full blown PlayStation Network download. Given its status as a Mini; it's nothing short of outstanding.