Too Long; Didn't Play: Superflight

Sponsored By: Krev

Time Flown: 2 hours, but not consecutively

Lost Combo Review

I soared until I was sore, but I swore I’d get the high score.

High Score Review

People like to talk about video games as a storytelling media. And rightly so, I suppose. Video games have a way of transforming narrative structure, or at least making it more engrossing. In books we imagine the story, in film we watch it, but in video games we can be the story.

There have been a lot of articles written about that very subject, but I often wonder if, in our mad rush to turn video games into a Serious Artistic Medium, we risk losing some of what makes video games so unique in the first place. I mean, games like Gone Home and Sakura Swim Club do a bang-up job of conveying a story, but I honestly struggle to think of them as video games in the sense that the term has been understood since I first picked up the controller. Sure, they exist on Steam and can be played with the same tools as Doom and Street Fighter, but so does Hellraiser: Judgement, and nobody’s twisting themselves into knots to call that a video game. Not unless liquor is involved anyway.

Still, my first two examples are more interactive than a DVD menu, and thus qualify for the label in a way that the final one does not, so I’m not going to quibble about definitions. One of my favorite things about video games is how inclusive they are as a medium. But I would like to take a moment to celebrate the Pure Game, because there are so few of them being made anymore.

Now, since I’ve coined a term, I’d better have a darn good definition of it for you, and I think I do. A pure game is a game that is shorn of any trappings other than mechanics. There is no story, at most there is a vague premise. There is no explanation for anything other than “because video game.” There is only the thing that the player controls, and the game itself trying to prevent the player from doing whatever the object of the game is.

Since the Pure Game cannot, by definition, challenge your preconceptions about narratives, it must challenge the only thing it has access too, and that’s the player’s skill. The ghosts in Pac-Man get faster, the polygon thingies in Tempest get more numerous, and so forth.

Now, the problem with reviewing a Pure Game is that there isn’t a whole lot to say about them without getting tedious. There’s only so many words you can write about game mechanics before people start getting QWERTY dents in their foreheads. Which is why I spent so many words before getting to the point, which is that Superflight is the best example of a Pure Game to come out in recent memory.

You play as a blocky, flying character, perhaps in a wingsuit, because video game. There is no story; there is no reason for the player to be where the player is, or doing what the player is doing, other than the fact that this is a video game. The game is simply a score-chase.

Mechanically, it’s similar to AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome From Dejobaan. You must steer your gravity-bound avatar as close as possible to the lethal obstacles surrounding it, but no closer. It’s better executed than Dejobaan’s seminal title (or its sequels), in no small part because it’s a third-person game and not first-person. You can see precisely how close your voxelly flying person is to the voxelly mountains as you go. You may not be able to do anything about how close they are, but you can see it, which is nice because you don’t have to guess about where your hitbox is.

Like so many Pure Games, Superflight is a score chase. After every crash, you are shown your score, which is compared to your highest score and shown how it ranks against everyone else who’s played the game. Sadly, it doesn’t feature any friends-only leaderboards, which seems like an oversight. It’s no fun to score-chase random strangers, and the incentive to better your own score for its own sake is only as strong as how much fun the game is.

Fortunately, Superflight is quite fun. It’s mechanics are superb, and the graphical minimalism takes a backseat to the audio maximalism. Everything in the sound design contributes to an unbelievable sensation of speed. It brings to mind GoPro videos of the lunatics who do base-jumping in the real world despite the fact that games like Superflight exist.

That’s really all there is to say about it. It’s a Pure Game, and it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever played. In fact, I think I shall wrap this up here and go play some more. My high score is still only around 25,000 points, and I’m sure I can best that.

Will I keep playing?

I’m sorry, were you not reading the last paragraph? This review is done, and I’m playing the game right now. Just listen:

(sound of whooshing winds punctuated by a sickening thud)

Woohoo! 27,000!

Is it the Dark Souls of Pure Games?

The thing about Pure Games is that they’re already hard. They have to be, because they don’t have any writing to keep the players slogging through mediocre levels.

The trick is the question of whether the Pure Game walks that Dark Soulsish balance between being too hard and being too easy. Too hard, and nobody will play it but obsessive masochists (I’m looking at you, Bennett Foddy!). Too easy, and you get score inflation and nobody will bother (I see you as well, Achievement Hunter series!)

A good Pure Game, therefore, is always the Dark Souls of its kind, because the bad ones are either unfair or boring. Since Superflight is a good Pure Game, then the answer is yes: It is the Dark Souls of randomized wingsuit flight simulators.

Comments

Oy, the new Hellraiser came out? Hopefully they can get that series back on track.

Speaking of Dejobaan, are they still making games? I lost track of them sometime after Aaaaaa.

Pure Game. I can dig it.