We’d like to snap our fingers and immediately set up an interview with WildSphere, the developers of Flying Soldiers. This is a game called Flying Soldiers, with troops that are budgies, yet no flying is done whatsoever. In fact, the game relies on its units not being able to fly, since you, the player, are the one trampolining and springboarding them around an arena. And the budgies all dress as old-timey soldiers, yet there’s no combat to be had, and the backgrounds are clearly modern day, including – what looks to be – an ALDI car park. There’s no reason for the ‘Flying Soldiers’ theming at all, in fact. It all makes zero sense.
Luckily, the game underneath the endearing but doolally theming holds up to scrutiny. It is, for all intents and purposes, Lemmings by way of a coding game. Budgies walk to salvation or their doom. You set up some commands, watch them play out, and then adjust the code to better suit the results. Except it has budgies. And helmets.
We should probably rewind further. Each Flying Soldiers level starts in the same way. A number of eggs sit in a box on the left-hand side of the arena. These eggs are your troops, ready to hatch, and the moment they do so, they will start automatically walking. This will take them through an obstacle course, full of death-traps. Without any interference from you, they will die a multitude of deaths, only a moment after emerging into the world. Soldier, you can’t let that happen.
To aid your newborn budgies, you have quartermaster’s stores full of ordnance. You will start off with barriers, which can be placed at forty-five degree angles to nudge the budgies into another of the game’s three lanes. Springboards soon follow, with speed boosts that give the springboards some oomph. After that, well, there are trampolines, gates to pause budgies for a moment, fans to blow budgies off course, and a few others, all accessed from a radial menu.
We will clear up something that is not abundantly clear, as Flying Soldiers doesn’t do any tutorialising (something which works rather well, most of the time, as it encourages you to play rather than read): you have a limit on the total number of tools you use, but you can use any combination of tools you want. So, when the interface tells you that you have five barriers, what it is really saying is that you COULD have five barriers, if you only opted to drop barriers. You could also have three barriers and two springboards to make up that five, for example. So, thinking about combinations of items is a must-do.
You choose when the budgies begin their march, so the opening moments of a level are anticipating obstacles and planning for how to avoid them. Helpfully, Flying Soldiers has collectibles – three star medals per level – which not only add longevity, but hint towards the perfect run for the level. If there’s a medal hovering over a chasm, chances are that you should jump over it.
The number of obstacles is limited, so the next step is often an efficiency pass. Could you get the same result with one fewer tool? Once that’s done, it’s time to hold B and let the troops advance. Take it from us: you will never be 100% confident that your budgies will emerge unscathed at the end of the level, so this is often a moment of great satisfaction, or a perfect time to pull off a Picard facepalm. More often than not, we had forgotten a springboard and watched as we created a puff of feathers.
It’s here where some niggles creep in. Flying Soldiers would deeply benefit from giving some more feedback to the player. Take the star medals, for example. It might seem minor, but there is no shadow beneath them, so it’s often incredibly difficult to tell which lane they’re hovering above. You can merrily sling your troop into the air, hoping to catch one, only to realise that it resided one lane back.
The same goes for feedback on the physics of the game. We still don’t know, not for sure, how far or high a springboard or trampoline will fire our budgies. But in some levels there’s no margin for error, as you set up a Rube-Goldberg-like chain of tools, only for the springboard to fire your troops too far or too high. We wonder whether it would have been so bad if a little indicator – a transparent arrow, for example – showed the likely trajectory. Instead, we embarked on a journey of trial-and-error.
Which isn’t all that bad, after all. Flying Soldiers knows that you will fail, dozens of times perhaps, so makes replay a cinch. Choose to re-do the level (because you failed, or because you didn’t save everyone, or gain all the medals) and you can quickly return to the map with all of the tools placed in their previous orientation. You can move a springboard a square earlier or remove an unwanted speed boost, and restart the level in a matter of moments. Loading times between levels, however, are too long.
As levels progress, the difficulty climbs, but only marginally. Flying Soldiers is not a difficult game, and we anticipate that you will mount its forty-five levels in roughly three hours. No walkthroughs will be troubled on your ascent. As you play, you can imagine what more difficult levels might look like, but Flying Soldiers never goes there.
But that’s not to say that interest doesn’t get swirled into the mix. Every fifteen levels, a new troop arrives. A commando soldier can wade through treacle, swim through water, hit switches and move at almost twice the speed of the average bird. The special forces soldier, however, is a bit of a chunk, moving slower, being immune to the push of fans, and rolling through brick walls. Suddenly, who performs each action becomes a consideration, and a few extra layers get added on. It never approaches the peak difficulty of Lemmings, not even close, but Flying Soldiers can get the brain cells whirring.
It may not be particularly challenging, and it’s got a shopping list of improvements that need making (visual feedback and faster loading times please!), but Flying Soldiers hits upon something. It’s in that moment when you’ve constructed the perfect obstacle course for your birds, or so you thought. You’ve overlooked something, and the feathers fly. It’s also in the moment when you’ve scrapped together something that couldn’t possibly work. But then your birds execute on your terrible plan with aplomb, delivering you all three medals and everyone saved.
Fans of Lemmings and its sadistic pleasures will get a lot from Flying Soldiers, albeit nothing approaching a challenge. Acknowledge that it will all be over in a few hours, though, and you can be reassured that you’re in safe hands. The tweaks to the formula are fantastic – splitting into lanes and differing troop types in particular – and there’s glee in pressing the B button and watching your lemmings – sorry, budgies – auto-walk to their doom.
Now, if they are auto-walking to their doom, why did they call it FLYING Soldiers? WildSphere, explain yourselves!
You can buy Flying Soldiers from the Xbox Store