RELEASE DATE: 1984 (Arcade, SG-1000); 05/01/91 (Genesis/Mega Drive); 03/18/1994 (Mega-CD); 2/28/1997 (Saturn)
Flicky was a brief flash of inspiration for Sega, and up until 1984, the closest a Sega-developed game had come to mimicking Nintendo’s colorful character-driven style. Flicky, the Piopios, the Nyannyan cats, and the Choro Iguana designs burst with life and personality. The story – help Flicky rescue her baby birds from the perils of the outside world – was heartfelt and relatable. Most importantly, Flicky‘s short bursts of addictive gameplay coupled with its wonderfully-rendered characters gave the game a well-rounded depth unlike any in Sega’s catalog up to this point. Flicky isn’t quite a masterpiece, but to my mind, the game heralded a new wave of creativity in their arcade output, while also foreshadowing their future mascot rivalry with Nintendo.
In Flicky, you control the blue bird Flicky around different levels of an apartment building. Her babies, the Piopios, are adrift and must be collected by Flicky and taken to the exit. The birds amass behind Flicky in a single-line formation and will stay behind her unless they’re disrupted or taken to the exit. The more birds you deliver to the exit at one time, the more bonus points you’ll acquire; extra points are also given for beating the level quickly.
To the exit! To freedom! (Genesis)
The Nyan cats emerge from litter boxes to stop Flicky from her exodus. If the cats pounce on Flicky, she’ll die, but if the cats pounce on her birds, they will disperse away from Flicky, forcing her to collect them again. The Piopios with sunglasses have rebellious minds of their own and will run all over the place if touched by a Nyan, while the goody-goody Piopios without sunglasses will always stay close to where they were displaced from Flicky. There’s miscellaneous debris – telephones, flowerpots, teacups – scattered around the level that Flicky can throw at the cats to make them disappear for a brief window of time. Later stages add in Choro, a fast-crawling iguana who never stops running across and around the entire stage.
There are forty-eight levels in total, each one consisting of a wraparound screen that gives the illusion of greater space. Unlike one-screen games where the action is bound to what the player sees, wraparound screens enable the action to move on a continuous loop. Flicky can move forever to the right or to the left, bounding from platform to platform, but she’ll never get away from the Nyan cats until she delivers her birds to the exit. For some players, the wraparound screen can make navigating the levels confusing, but Flicky‘s levels are never so complex as to get you lost; give the game time and your mind will adjust. After you beat all forty-eight levels, the levels will repeat with slightly different elements. Repeating levels were a standard element in the majority of arcade titles at the time, but in Flicky, the implication behind them – that Flicky’s war to free her babies is a never-ending one – is quite sad.
I don’t remember any guns from the game. Those Nyans will stop at nyan-thing…
Flicky? Is that you behind those dead soulless eyes?
While the arcade version of Flicky is cute and colorful, the SG-1000 version is drab and barely playable. Gone are any details from the arcade version. The vintage wallpaper from the apartment has been replaced with monotonous green and blue backgrounds. Flicky, the Piopios, and the Nyan cats are all bizarro stencil copies of their former selves. Graphics aren’t everything, sure, but in Flicky‘s case, they’re a huge part of the game’s appeal. The wraparound screen effect remains, but the platforms, once so carefully spaced apart, are closer together and nearly impossible to jump on. There seem to be invisible barriers surrounding the edges of each platform as well, forcing Flicky to make pitch-perfect jumps in order to reach the platforms. Another bizarre change: the cats fall from the sky instead of appearing from litter boxes. This change might sound trivial, but when you’re about to complete the level and a cat falls out of nowhere on to you, expletives will emerge with a maddening fury.
The birds with shades are hilarious, but every other aspect of this cover is wrong.
Who do those snooty birds think they are? Ray Charles?
Flicky for the SG-1000 is harder, uglier, and not at all representative of what the system can do, but the Genesis/Mega Drive version released in 1991 is a wonderful arcade port. Almost every element from the arcade game (save for the slightly wonkier music) is recreated flawlessly, as one would expect for a seven-year-old title. No wonder, then, that the Genesis version of Flicky would later be placed into damn near every Sega collection, including Sonic Mega Collection (where I had my first experience with Flicky), Sega Genesis Collection for PS2 and PSP, and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 and Xbox 360, among others.
Sega games sure can.
That elephant really ties the room together. (Mega-CD)
One of many volumes to come.
Flicky meets her attackers head-on. (Saturn)
In Japan, Flicky also saw two additional re-releases for the Mega-CD and Saturn in the compilations Game no Kanzume Vol. 1 and Sega Ages Memorial Collection Vol. 1 respectively. Both versions of Flicky on the compilations look and play like the arcade, though the Mega CD version only plays music upon the beginning and completion of each stage. The Saturn version, however, has improved CD-quality music throughout the entire game.
Sega never honored Flicky with her own sequel, but her legacy lives on in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and particularly in Sonic 3D Blast. In earlier Sonic games, Flickies would appear out of robots that Sonic destroyed and scamper off into the distance. 3D Blast – otherwise known as Sonic 3D: Flickies Island in Europe and Japan – brought Flickies into the forefront, playing less like a Sonic game and more like an expanded version of Flicky with Sonic as the main character. Sonic rescues the Flickies, they follow him in a straight line, if he gets hit they scatter, and he has to bring them to the exit in order to move forward.
My opinion? Traveller’s Tales, the makers of 3D Blast, weren’t interested in making yet another 2D Sonic game (what would have been the fifth in as many years). The developers obviously had fond memories of Flicky, but Sega, keen to maintain their hard-edged 90s image, probably wouldn’t have allowed Traveller’s Tales to construct a cutesy straightforward Flicky sequel. Thus the subversive 3D Blast, a Sonic game in name and characters only (Tails, Knuckles, and Robotnik make brief appearances), was born. 3D Blast wasn’t really a good Sonic game because it eschewed the series’ typical lightning-pace for isometric levels that forced you to explore. As a spiritual sequel to Flicky with Sonic playing the role of the mother and the Flickies as the Piopios, however, 3D Blast has its charm.
I haven’t played much of Sega’s arcade output pre-1980, but most of what I’ve played feels hollow and lifeless compared to Flicky. Games like Borderline, N-Sub, Safari Hunting, and Champion Baseball are all forgotten now because they lack any sort of personality or defining qualities. As such, I consider Flicky a turning point for the company, a game that’s remembered as much for its considerable charm as its addictive gameplay.
Mega-CD:B+ (where’s the carnival tunes?)