Flea – Dreamcast review

It was great news to hear that Wave Game Studios will be releasing one Dreamcast game a month during 2022. After Yeah Yeah Beebiss II released in January, we now have February’s instalment to review. Flea is released as a special edition 2nd February 2022 on Dreamcast and is available for pre-order now. After starting out life as a NES game, Flea has also been released on mobile, PC and Evercade. It is a fast-paced platformer similar to the infamous Meat Boy. What starts out as a simple platformer soon turns into a controller throwing nightmare.

Before we get on with the review, it is important to recognise Flea’s place in the Dreamcast indie library. The developer, Lowtek Games, aims to make games that are accessible to players with dyslexia. With this in mind, Flea has been designed to be simple, playable and accessible. Anyone from seasoned professionals to platforming beginners can get to grips with its mechanics quickly. I went into my first try with these points in mind and it is great that the Dreamcast indie scene is becoming more varied. For too long it was reliant on shooters and seeing releases like Flea is refreshing.

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You play as Henry, a flea who is on a mission to overthrow the greedy king who wants all the blood for himself. The Fleas have created a network of straws that help them navigate a dog they call the Beast. You make your way through each single screen level collecting blood that can be turned into lives. You interact with other creatures living on the dog who help you with your quest. The premise is charming and I actually giggled to myself thinking about this microcosm of fleas fighting for freedom from their overlord.

The story does not develop much from there except every ten levels when the king releases a boss for you to escape from. The bosses are represented by other insect nasties that chase you in scenes similar to the infamous Battletoad tunnel levels. And yes, they are hard but help break up the gameplay from the single screen platforming levels. The other key mechanic in Flea is how you control Henry. He is always jumping, you cant stop him. It certainly makes for interesting gameplay and you will spend a few moments thinking how to approach each level.

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The only real control you have is moving left and right and being able to create smaller jumps by pressing ‘A’ just as Henry lands. These smaller jumps allow you to crawl along small areas with spikes above you. But it gets more complicated as you progress because you need to perform a small jump while also flinging yourself across obstacles. There is also a boost mechanic unlocked later on but I will allow you to discover that yourself. And in true retro style, look to the clouds for a Mario style warp pipe early in the game.

Henry controls very well overall and because the collision detection is spot on, Flea is a joy to playthrough. You will get angry, you will get frustrated but that is the point. Flea is a test of your dexterity and abilities to keep calm. On my first playthrough I managed to get through the first 40 levels. With 80 in total there is longevity to Flea that will keep you coming back. And given the fact there are no save states you will need to get good quickly to succeed. Flea is just old-school gaming at its best, try, try and try again. 

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Considering Flea has been ported from a NES game we need to be realistic when considering the presentation. It does look basic, the graphics are simple and many of the levels look similar. However, the levels are broken down into blocks of ten, each with their own theme. The deeper you get into Flea the more whacky the single screens become. My favourite was a disco style background that quickly switched colours, you had to force yourself to ignore it making the game that little bit tougher. 

The animations on Henry are smooth as is the other moving creatures on screen. I would have liked to have seen some of the obstacles have some movement but what is on show is great. I already mentioned the collision detection being excellent and any mistakes are your own. There is no hiding behind bad controls or bad obstacle collision here. The soundtrack features seven tracks from Tu├» and the music really suits the frantic gameplay. I was most impressed with the music for the boss levels as I felt my anxiety lift.

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I quickly became addicted to Flea as I just wanted to get through the next level. It is the perfect ‘one more try’ game that is easy to pick up. This is a fine entry to Wave’s budget range and a must buy for anyone who enjoys a truly challenging game. I also love the fact it has lots of re-playability and is perfect for speed runners and casual players alike. Flea may be basic in its presentation but with fine controls and 80 levels there is a lot here for the money. Add into this the CD soundtrack that comes with this special edition, it is great for the Dreamcast collectors. I thoroughly recommend picking up Flea before it sells out.

Thank you to Lowtek Games and Wave Game Studios for providing a copy of the game.

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