This is not a typical shoot ’em up. I know you, dear reader: you’ve glanced at the screenshots and you’ve noted that Who’s That Flying?! (and yes, its initialisation of WTF does sum up the level of humour) is a horizontally-scrolling game with a variety of enemies flying across the screen in patterns, and a hero spewing blue bullets like some sort of electric minigun.
There’s one big, big difference to most shmups, though: our hero (the Guardian of Earth) is a superhero and cannot be killed. You have no life bar in a traditional sense; you’re not dodging huge flowery patterns like in a bullet hell shooter. You’re a defender, and that’s what you do: defend. If too many Ravagers (the smallest and weakest of the invading Doom Beasts) get past you, the city is destroyed and you lose. While you’re trying to destroy them, larger enemies do their damnedest to stun you and help their smaller brethren get through.
Other than that – and make no mistake, that’s a pretty big change – it’s fairly standard shmup action. You fly vertically and horizontally, using your arm cannon to dispatch foes. Shooting enemies in quick succession builds up a points multiplier, and as you destroy enemies you build up a power meter granting you access to more powerful attacks. Initially, you’ll get Turbo Fire, speeding up both your movement and your fire rate. Next up is the Super Beam, a thin beam that cuts through enemies, instantly destroys Ravagers, and quickly damages any other enemies. Finally, there’s the Hyper Beam: a gigantic beam that takes up a third of the screen and instantly destroys anything. Bigger enemies touching you pushes you away, while ramming into a Ravager makes the Guardian stop shooting for a second to rip them apart, dealing splash damage to other nearby foes. Only the Hyper Beam can kill the biggest foes outright, however – normal shots just weaken them to the point where you can hold down CTRL and hammer the space bar to finish them off, dealing massive damage to everything around them.
The game’s Story Mode comprises 15 levels, taking you across the USA, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and finally outer space. While each level has the one-shot-one-kill Ravagers, there are also unique themed enemies to take on. New York, for instance, has longer, worm-like enemies comprised of different sections that spit lightning balls. Mexico, on the other hand, has gigantic horned enemies that charge at you. Patterns of enemy movement and the tactics required to stop the Ravagers differ from level to level, which is important in making a game like this fun, and you’ll quickly develop a hatred for the different types of bigger Doom Beasts you’ll face. That aside, levels don’t feel particularly different: you have a different scrolling city in the background and different music, but it’s still a scrolling city and the enemies are still variations on the theme of black and purple blobs.
What really sets the game apart from other shmups is its sense of style and humour. As the game begins, the Guardian of Earth is on trial at the Galactic Council of Space Justice, a sort of superhero tribunal. Apparently, he was off showboating at a photoshoot when Doom Beasts – inter-dimensional monsters hell-bent on wreaking havoc across Earth’s cities – launched their attack. The Council is trying to decide whether or not the Guardian of Earth should be sent to prison for shirking his responsibilities, while you relive his memories and fend off the attack as evidence that he did his job properly.
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And lord, but it’s genuinely amusing. Mediatronic has a good eye for humour, with each of the Guardians having a distinct personality – from the long-suffering Uranus to the showboating Earth – and the dialogue is exactly the sort of thing you’d find in a particularly snarky American cartoon. It’s highly impressive, not least because this humour and level of character is illustrated across all of about six cutscenes.
Yes, six cutscenes. Story Mode is short and will only take maybe an hour to blow through, but that’s when the real game begins. Each level has a Gold ranking (for letting very few Ravagers past) and a Perfect ranking (for… well, take a guess), and gathering Gold across each city opens up new pages in Who’s That Flying?! magazine, giving you amusing profiles on each of the Guardians.
If you want to take a break from unlocking those, you’ve got Challenge Mode and Infinite Mode. Infinite Mode puts you above a city of your choice, facing down that level’s foes, and sees how long you can keep the city standing against an unlimited horde of Doom Beasts. Challenge Mode ups the ante significantly, changing the way the game plays: some levels ask you to defeat a boss in a short span of time, others double the game’s speed, and others still give you precisely one life – if a single Ravager gets past you, you lose. Trying to get Gold on Challenge Mode is where I spent most of my time, and success often requires a well thought-out plan of attack and nigh-perfect execution.
Frankly, I love it. The cutscenes are good enough that you’re always eager to see the next, the characters are surprisingly well-designed for the amount of screen time they get, and the levels are short enough that you’re more than happy to replay them in order to try and get Gold or Perfect. You get 50 lives per level which works perfectly: it’s forgiving enough that casual players won’t get frustrated And, odd as it may sound, it’s nice to play a game where the meaty spacebar is your fire button.
It feels strange that I love it as much as I do, too, because there are so many flaws. Cutscenes upcale poorly at high resolutions, loading times are frankly absurd for something like this, and considering how much I love the characters and the cutscenes it’s a genuine shame that there are so few opportunities to see them. Worse still is the fact that, while online leaderboards exist, they only show up in Infinite Mode and there’s no way to check them from the menu – you have to play a round to see how you stack up to your friends. That, in particular, is a huge misstep for something like this: I’d love to see how my scores on, say, the second Mexico level stack up to my Steam friends.
But, for the asking price of a fiver, it’s hard to complain too loudly. This is an amusing, entertaining, addictive and replayable piece of shmup action that caters wonderfully to pretty much anyone who wants to play it. I certainly wish there was more of it to love, but it offers a better ratio of money-to-hours-of-entertainment than most games do, and it’s hard to think of something on which I’d rather spend a fiver.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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