It’s a funny thing, but often the simplest looking and most enjoyable games are the hardest ones to understand or tell people about. Like Braid, where discussion was pulled away from the clever puzzles and ambiguous storyline to focus on the specifics of the time travelling controls.
That same problem plagues Flotilla, the first paid-for release from the man behind games like Barista and Gravity Bone, both of which we’ve loved for their eccentric plot and extreme accessibility. Flotilla is really quite a simple and accessible game, but any explanation of it starts to get bogged down in technicalities and tactics.
So, let’s get the complicated stuff out of the way first.
Shame. They were a good crew.
Flotilla is, to those who can tolerate the jargon, a short simultaneous turn-based space-based shooter. Simplified down a bit, that means that it’s about using your space ships to shoot down other space-goers but that it doesn’t require super-reflexes or induce motion sickness. It’s also about massacring penguin bandits, befriending confused crocodiles and regularly having your eyeballs ripped out by a goddess.
There are two definite layers to Flotilla, one of which contains slow-motion explosions and classical piano music, the other of which has fugitive kittens and space assassins. Playing through the adventure mode which forms the backbone of the game you basically alternate between the two as you try to survive.
There’s little in the way of plotwork or story. When you start the game you’re asked to input a name on your Captain’s License and then, plop, you’re in the game – and, yes, Flotilla definitely starts with a plop rather than a bang. You’re deposited at a randomised map of the galaxy, with two tiny ships under your command and a message that says you’ve got seven months to live. There’s the immediate upside of being an astronaut with nothing to lose, but terminal illness is enough to take the wind out of anyone’s solar-sails.
Combat looks strange and handles even more so, but is actually a lot of fun
The illness though exists only as a means to limit the length of your adventure to a set number of turns, each of which involves a jaunt to a nearby planet and the ensuing random encounter. It’s these encounters – which really are incredibly random – that form one of Flotilla’s chief joys. There’s no way to predict what you might find whenever you visit a planet, so it could be anything from penguin bandits intent on liberating your cargo to an owl warlord who’s miffed that you’ve been declared above him in the honourable art of karaoke.
Those encounters which don’t devolve immediately into trial by space combat generally offer a simple choice to you, the results of which can occasionally come back to haunt or help you as your adventure continues. Either way, assuming you survive, you get a handful of points that boost your score, the aim being to accrue as many as possible before your character spontaneously expires. In order to get points of any real note though you’re going to need bigger boats in your flotilla, of which can only be won as the spoils of war.
It’s there, in combat, that Flotilla gets really interesting and lets players drop away from the luck-led guesswork of intergalactic exploration and put on their tactical thinking caps.