IFComp 2010: Flight of the Hummingbird

Spoilers follow the break.

At the most obvious level, this is a superhero story. A silly one, but not outright wacky like the Frenetic Five games — there frankly isn’t anything here that I couldn’t imagine happening in a golden-age Superman book, quietly daring the reader to take it seriously.

But it’s also, to some extent, a neat little study in a particular puzzle type: the multi-room navigation puzzle. This takes several forms, but it’s basically all variations on a theme: you can see where you need to go, but can’t get there without some small bit of insight. The most basic version of this is simply learning to exercise your power of flight. As the crimefighter known as the Hummingbird, you can flap your arms fast enough to lift off, but only for a few turns after taking a sip of energy drink. Furthermore, while powered up this way, you can’t do anything other than fly. These limitations make flight inconvenient enough that the player only uses it in response to specific situations that require it. So every time you use it, you have to think of it afresh, even if it’s in a place you’ve used it before. (In fact, it may be a little too inconvenient: some players have reported annoyance at having to go back to the starting area to fetch an item they missed, something that probably wouldn’t bother them so much if it were just a matter of normal compass-direction travel.) Other variants include toggling obstacles remotely, getting a large object to a location you can get to easily without it, and a simple orbital mechanics puzzle (east takes you up, etc.) This isn’t a large game, so that’s actually most of the puzzles right there.

There’s one thing about the story that didn’t make sense to me at all at the time. As you approach Dr. Sinister’s island lair, you see a rocket take off. The Hummingbird’s response seemed contradictory to me: he assumed that Dr. Sinister had escaped aboard that rocket, and he decided to keep on investigating the lair in the hope of confronting him. I honestly thought I had hit a bug at this point. It turned out that the lair contained a second rocket, but I didn’t know that beforehand, and neither did the Hummingbird — it’s specifically mentioned that his ownership of even one rocket was a surprise. If he had said something to clarify his intentions, something like “I’ve got to check out the lair — maybe he has a second rocket I can use to follow him!” or “I’ve got to check out the lair — maybe the rocket is just a decoy!”, it would have been easier to accept. As it is, it’s just another communication failure, a case of not thinking like a player.

At the end, you have to get past a flock of minions. Reading the walkthrough afterward, I find that there are several ways to go about this: there are four things you can do to give yourself an combat advantage, of which any two taken together are adequate. But two of them strike me as things that no one is likely to try, so I’d be surprised if anyone solved this bit in a different way from me. More failure to think like a player? Maybe, but at least it doesn’t have any harmful effect here; the only reason I have any room for complaint is that I read the walkthrough after finishing the game.

And anyway, this is a really well-implemented game, with lots of automated actions (like stowing your inventory on your belt before taking off) and other help with commands. The first time you take to the air, you have to explicitly say you want to drink the energy drink first; once you’ve done this once, the game knows that you’ve demonstrated understanding of the connection and automatically performs both actions in response to the command “fly” or “drink”. Which kind of undercuts what I said about the inconvenience of flight, but it’s more of a conceptual inconvenience than an actual inconvenience.

Rating: 7

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