- Developer: Subtle Boom
- Publisher: Subtle Boom
- Release Date: 07/05/2020
- Price: £7.99 / $9.99
- Review code provided by Subtle Boom
Introducing: Fledgling Heroes Switch Reivew
It’s hard to think of things that that draw the ire of core gamers more than mobile gaming. The platform has, both deservedly and undeservedly, become a punching bag. Late in 2019, though, Apple attempted to shift the narrative with the release of Apple Arcade, a hub for quality software devoid of many tropes that make mobile gaming so distasteful for many.
Apple Arcade seems to be a respectable, well-curated place to play games, but as I’m a devout Android user, I haven’t been able to play the platform’s exclusive titles. Well, at least not the full library, as some Apple Arcade titles have begun to trickle onto other storefronts. One game that has flown the coop is Fledgling Heroes, an avian, auto-running (flapping?) platformer from Subtle Boom. Overflowing with charm and content, this title is a fun time, even if its underlying design leaves a little something to be desired.
Excellent Avian Aesthetics
Upon booting up Fledgling Heroes, its cheery aesthetic is immediately on full display, demanding high praise. Visually, the game is a winner. Fledgling Heroes has a wonderful, hand-drawn art style and equally impressive animations. Its world pops with vibrant, saturated colors and is given texture due to some inventive art direction. I was consistently charmed by the game graphically, and I never got tired of Fledgling Heroes’ universe.
I did grow tired of its music, though, which does begin to grate before too long. Otherwise, the presentation is pretty sublime. Of course, even the music is redeemed somewhat by the game’s SFX – principally, the elated whirls and chortles of its penguin protagonist that never failed to put a smile on my face.
Brave and Bold Birds
That segues nicely into the gameplay of Fledgling Heroes, in which the player must guide one of several birds through obstacle-filled platforming stages. The game is split across three worlds and features six birds, each of which has a unique playstyle. That said, the motivation for these birds to undergo such peril is somewhat unclear. While the game does have a story, told through gorgeous picture book-like pages, it’s somewhat incoherent. Either I was too distracted by the witty, pun-filled writing, or the narrative really is incredibly thin. Regardless, I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of quest I had taken on. It doesn’t particularly matter, though, as like with the visuals, the writing offered enough charm to keep me happy, even if the overall story is as jumbled as a bird’s nest.
The gameplay is the true appeal of Fledgling Heroes. While such a comparison is incredibly reductive, Fledgling Heroes shares a lot of DNA with flash-in-the-pan megahit, Flappy Bird. Each stage of the campaign sees your avian ally charge ahead without player input, all you can do is flap the little guy’s wings to hopefully maneuver around hazards. Initially, wrestling direct control from the player resulted in the game being a laid-back and relaxing platformer. As I flapped with A to gain height and released the button to let my bird glide lower again, I fell into a sort of rhythm playing Fledgling Heroes. I was charmed by the visuals and engaged by the simple, understated mechanics. Then I played more.
The trouble with Fledgling Heroes is that the game quickly loses its relaxing nature as it introduces birds with cumbersome playstyles and levels that rely too heavily on trial-and-error. Since each bird operates differently, the gameplay always feels varied. In concept, introducing birds who fly differently helps break up the monotony inherent to such a mechanically simple platformer. In concept. The trouble is, not every bird controls with the same level of precision. In a vacuum, this isn’t an issue. However, when an imprecise bird is mixed with overly-precise level design, the game becomes frustrating.
Since you don’t have direct control over the bird, any actions you take are reactionary. You can’t prepare for obstacles until they’re already in view, and because of how much space the bird takes up on screen, the time to react is often low. As such, you’re going to die, a lot. It can be very annoying getting through levels because of this, especially if you go after the collectibles scattered throughout the levels. The stages are generally very short and often feature generous checkpoints, which help undercut this frustration. However, it is undeniably tiring to get hit by projectiles or run into obstacles that you simply don’t have time to react to. With the snappy respawn times, you’re never out of the action for long. Still, I found myself butting heads with the game’s level design fairly often.
If you can overlook these pockets of frustrating design, though, Fledgling Heroes is a charming platformer with a wealth of variety and replayability. Each world is filled with different level archetypes, from traditional stages to races to endless challenges. The levels themselves are also populated with plenty of collectables and extra challenges, many of which require multiple playthroughs to one-hundred percent. Most stages feature different routes to the goal also, which makes repeat visits to a level very enjoyable.
Building a Nest
That just represents the campaign-portion of Fledgling Heroes, though. This game is stuffed with content, including co-op play, customization options for the birds, and a full-on level creator. The latter is incredibly impressive and actually rivals Super Mario Maker in terms of ease. Making levels is a breeze and once completed, they can be uploaded to an online hub where other Fledgling Heroes players can check them out.
The hub is clean and easy to use, full of all the staple features you’d expect from such a platform. You can give feedback on other players’ creations using simple tags, and search for stages using various filters, or a direct ID search. On a meta level, this stage creator synergizes nicely with the offline content too. The obstacles that can be used in level creation can be found scattered throughout the campaign levels as blueprints, offering further incentive to explore and replay stages. I’m very impressed by the level creator in Fledgling Heroes. I had concerns that it would feel tacked on, but in execution, it is very well integrated.
For as content-rich and charming as Fledgling Heroes is, the game simply didn’t get its hooks in me. It is undeniably a very charming and robust experience. It’s creative and crammed full of odds and ends that are sure to delight many. Its auto-running gameplay simply isn’t that appealing to me, though. This style of gameplay railroads the player too much for my taste, and when combined with an over-reliance on trial-and-error in the campaign levels, I lost interest before too long. Beyond seeing the game through and trying out all of its content for my review, I didn’t have much motivation to return to the level creator or return to its stages with a completionist’s eye.
Even though I became disenchanted by Fledgling Heroes in the end, I was simultaneously impressed by what Subtle Boom accomplished. The game is packed with charm, content, and replayabilty. It’s a relatively simple concept that has been fleshed out into something much more. While it does suffer from uneven design, both in relation to its mechanically-diverse bird protagonists and the stages themselves, the sum of Fledgling Heroes’ parts make this title an easy recommendation for fans of this style.
- Charming aesthetic
- Robust campaign
- Fleshed out level creator
- Tactile gameplay
- Trial and error level design
- Not all birds are fun to control
Even in light of its flaws, Fledgling Heroes is a content-rich and charming platformer that is well worth keeping an eye on.