Fun [fuhn]

Noun

1) Something that provides mirth or amusement:

e.g. A picnic would be fun.

2) Enjoyment or playfulness:

e.g. She’s full of fun.

Difficult [dif-i-kuhlt, –kuh lt]

 Adjective

1) Not easily or readily done; requiring much labor, skill, or planning to be performed successfully; hard: 

e.g. a difficult job.

2) Hard to understand or solve:

e.g. a difficult problem.

3) Hard to deal with of get on with:

e.g. a difficult pupil.

So that clears it up for once and for all: difficult ≠ fun. For the record, I have been quite convinced of this for some time. But given the recent output of superbly difficult video games, I’ve started to doubt my definitions of the above words. But calm down everyone, I’m not saying that these two qualities are mutually exclusive. They have existed together in many different manifestations. However, I think their symbiotic coexistence has convinced certain parties that difficulty must exist in order to create fun. And this is not the truth.

fenix 1

I’m mentioning this now because Fenix Furia is a perfect case study for the aforementioned point. The chief reason for this being that Fenix Furia reaches its apex about halfway through – before things get too ridiculous and after your skills have been established. But before I get ahead of myself, here’s some background info: Fenix Furia is a 2D platformer about some weird little dude on some weird planet. There’s not much to the story apart from the odd – and oddly cute – animated clip. While I do appreciate Green Lava not jamming some spindly story down my throat, I do like to have some idea what’s going on. Fenix Furia’s story jumps around the place. It’s difficult to work out where these evil boss creatures come from or whether the characters are friends or mortal enemies. Still, this is a platformer, meaning the focus is on gameplay rather than story. And from a gameplay standpoint, Fenix Furia holds up fine.

The opening levels are fairly tame, to the extent that they would almost risk being boring were it not for the ‘cookie’ rewards – a humorous little addition here, is that if you collect enough of these, you’ll unlock actual cookie recipes. Things step up pretty quickly towards the end of the second world. From here until the seventh world, Fenix Furia is at its best. The levels are cleverly designed, with some interesting set pieces and unique mechanics. And this is where the difficulty discussion is appropriate. These worlds are a study in balancing difficulty and addictiveness, and one that a few games – and even the latter levels of Fenix Furia – could take into consideration. What was most appealing about these particular worlds was that nothing felt unfair. There was, most definitely a challenge to be found, but the game didn’t bombard you with too many elements. Navigating these levels was both fun and comprehensible, and completion felt like a well-earned reward. Green Lava get ahead of themselves in the final levels. Here the game falls into the typical rut of bombarding the player with obstacles, forsaking fun and clever design for an illusion of difficulty. The moving endpoints were a major annoyance, and the levels began to feel tired. The formulas that worked and felt unique in earlier levels, were reused and rehashed in ways that made them seem tired: more than that though, they were cluttered. The levels were crowded with too many moving parts with some challenges being so ridiculous that finishing a level felt more like a lucky accident and less like a test of skill.

fenix 3

The boss fights followed a similar formula, in that they were enticing and engaging but eventually became tired. In fact, the final boss was the worst. The battle felt overly long and many of the mechanics were tiresome. Given that the previous boss fights had been fairly enjoyable – and bearing in mind the importance of finishing on a high note – this was probably the low-point of the game. Fenix Furia is lucky that it’s earlier levels build up enough momentum to carry players through the poorly executed final stages.

And while we’re on the topic of poor execution, why don’t the levels properly reset upon death? Sure, destructible blocks reset but enemy timings and trajectories do not. Arcade platformers like Fenix Furia rely upon addictiveness and playability; it’s what carries players through periods of frustration. What this flaw does is allow for back-to-back deaths, and consequently poses a threat to that valuable notion of playability. If you’re listening Green Lava: patch this, it’s painful. But please don’t patch the graphics, because they’re not.

See, the door was open here for Green Lava to throw some pixelated retro graphics into the mix. Thankfully they didn’t. Fenix’s design is endearing and he makes for an excellent mascot for the game. The levels look sharp and polished and the environmental blocks are well designed but subtle enough to not distract from gameplay. However, the block-coloured backgrounds are the exact psychedelic irritation we don’t need. And they’re only worse in boss battles. Sure, the coloured background is unobtrusive for gameplay but its effects carry on to real life. I beat the final boss about an hour ago and I can still see the background a canvas of metastasized red and green, centred by a fluorescent eye shape. It’s burnt into the back of my eyelids and I get flashbacks every time I blink; and that’s a symptom of PTSD. Sure, it didn’t distract from gameplay, but now it’s distracting me from life. And that’s traumatising.

fenix 2

Sadly, what most lets Fenix Furia down is the platformer genre. There’s not enough variation in the genre for this game to feel ‘fresh’. Perhaps Green Lava’s latest console venture would have left a lasting impression if it maintained the standard of its early levels throughout the entire campaign. Of course, the inclusion of the two-player mode was something sort-of new, but while it can provide some fun and banter between friends, it won’t blow your mind.

Actually the same can be said for Fenix Furia on the whole. It’s an admirable effort, and it’s certainly worth inspecting if you’re fond of the genre. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, but do expect some light-hearted fun.

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