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by Sotenga - August 19, 2013

Fast Freddie / Fly-Boy (フライボーイ) - Arcade (1982)

Fast Freddie Arcade Flyer

Kaneko was a really weird video game company. Seriously, they were BEYOND obscure and their releases were all rather inconsistent in quality. Data East was also pretty odd but wrought some minor cult fame via Karnov and Bad Dudes. Jaleco was even less acknowledged, but even they achieved a brief niche of fame with the Bases Loaded series for sports nuts. Kaneko had even less than either of these two underdogs, and if you've heard of them today, you... certainly do know a lot about video games! Their most "famous" series is Gals Panic, essentially Taito's Qix with increasingly saucy pictures of women appearing in the background. They also had a couple of respectable shooters in Air Busters and Cyvern, and one decidedly less amazing in Heavy Unit. They even dipped into the fighting market with the subpar Shogun Warriors and the slightly less bad but still not-great Blood Warrior, and the infamous (but actually pretty good) Jackie Chan fighter. However, every company has to start somewhere, even one that doesn't go anywhere substantial. In the case of Kaneko, their first video venue was Fly-Boy, which may be the very first game of all time that features a hang glider.

Fly-Boy is an odd game to define as a genre. It's not quite a racing game or a shoot-em-up, but it vaguely touches upon elements of both. It's too simple to be defined as a flight simulator, although it has you riding a hang glider nearly a decade before Pilotwings included such a means of touching the sky. I'm not sure what exactly to call it, but the premise of the game is simple enough: Avoid obstacles and reach a landing pad goal. Your player character is a bizarre-looking boy with unnaturally pink skin, ghost-white hair and eyes, and a black perpetually-smiling mouth that gives him a frankly creepy appearance. Once you jump off at the beginning, your goal is to maneuver through the air and not crash into anything which seems simple enough on paper. However, it can be a bit difficult to actually move your glider around, as it is subject to semi-realistic inertia laws that causes your movement to be delayed by half a second, as if wind is constantly pushing upon you.

In addition to your own fight against nature, you also have to deal with planes that fly about in formation, and other aircraft like helicopters and birds. Whether they're innocuously flying around and you're getting in their way or if they exist to deliberately ruin your good time is unknown, but these jerks will drop you if they touch your guy or your glider. You have a defense mechanism against approaching aircraft, albeit a bit of a weird one that requires you to be on top of your enemy. If you press the action button, you kick your feet wildly through the air, with your legs somehow being strong enough to down airplanes. You can drop yourself onto most enemies while kicking, but if they tag you off to the side or touch your glider, that's a life down. This also happens if you collide into the environment, though most of your obstacles are at ground level. There is a motivation to touch down near the ground with bonus flags, where grabbing the letters "B" "O" "N" "U" and "S" gets you lots of points at the end of the stage. Keep in mind that collecting a letter out of order resets the bonus. You can also gain additional points by deliberately waiting when the prompt for landing time appears on-screen, as past the first 1000-point goal that appears are smaller but meatier pads that can make your landing bonus as large as 5000.

Fly-Boy

The game has a bit of an odd difficulty curve among its three main stages, where the second level is arguably the worst. The first stage is easy enough, flying over a docile country town, but the second level takes place on a fair-weather beach with more vicious enemies and a truly stupid obstacle. Somehow, the clouds in the sky cause you to crash the instant you touch them, as if they were solid objects in the sky. It's easy to forget that they aren't just part of the background and it's severely annoying trying to maneuver through the sky with white puffy death lurking everywhere. So after enjoying the peaceful countryside and scenic beachfront, your third stage happens to be... an ominous blood-red sky set over pale green pyramids and a sphinx?! Either you're flying about on Mars, a post-apocalyptic landscape, or possibly an alien dimension. You're pursued by odd blue glowing spheres, but this stage is arguably easier since there are no more clouds which impede your airspace. The stages repeat but with differences to the color palette, like snow coating everything in the first level.

Fly-Boy is what it is: A game about a bizarre humanoid with a black hole for a mouth just out for a gentle stroll through the sky while planes and orbs and clouds try to take him out of commission. It was certainly a weird start for Kaneko, but while it certainly did not bring any major attention to the company, it's actually a pretty fun game once you get used to the somewhat stiff controls. There wasn't really any game quite like it for the time, and there still isn't really anything to which it can be compared, perhaps except for early side-scrolling shooters like Scramble. While Fly-Boy never made it to any known home ports, it was released in America under Atari's provision under the name Fast Freddie. Surprisingly, the name change isn't just cosmetic, as while it retains the same basic level structure, there are three notable differences in its gameplay. First and foremost, your player character (now ostensibly named Freddie) flies REALLY fast, with at least twice as much speed as the original game. Second, to compensate for your newfound speed, you also suffer much less inertia in flight and are able to control your glider without any additional swaying. Third, that useless map in the lower right is replaced with a "kick gauge," and Freddie can now flail his feet for as long as you hold down the button. However, the longer you hold, the more you drain of your kick meter, and you cannot do anything to restore it until you either die or beat a level. Due to the faster pace and easier control, Fast Freddie might actually be preferable to Fly-Boy, though it is harder to land on goals.

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Fly-Boy (Arcade)

Fly-Boy (Arcade)

Fly-Boy (Arcade)

Fast Freddie (Arcade)



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