For anyone interested in the shoot-’em-up game The Blue Flamingo, the first fact they’re likely to come across is that all the visuals in the game are handcrafted models. From the fighters in the sky to the land you’re flying above, all of it is crafted out of real world materials and scanned into the computer to make a game with a unique art style. It is definitely refreshing to see such a creative approach to in-game visuals (even though it’s not entirely new since games like Platypus and ClayFighter had been doing similar things with claymation in the past) and its hard not to be impressed by the behind-the-scenes video showing the absolutely massive landscape model and the moments where people are interacting with the images from the game’s title screen. Were this just some interactive art project, you could appreciate the hard work put into it and move on pretty easily, but The Blue Flamingo is selling itself on the Steam store and using phrases like “Shoot your way through intense levels with a swiftly increasing difficulty” to try and draw players in, so by pushing it as a product for sale, it’s almost forced me to judge it not only on the visuals, but on the content of its gameplay as well.
The first issue with approaching The Blue Flamingo is, actually, the visuals. While the creation of such a game is a marvelous feat, the execution leaves a little to be desired. The biggest issue has to be the fact that despite being a shoot-’em-up with multiple stages, all of them are the same environment repeated over and over again. The only real difference between loops is that it alternates between night and day, so very quickly the once impressive footage moving below your ship becomes repetitive and its cracks begin to show. While it has a few nice moving pieces like tiny cars and train engines, the world below feels disconnected from the action and is sometimes obscured by visual effects. In some areas, the land below you is blurred by lights or clouds, making it feel like you’re viewing the modelers’ hard work through smudged glass. The visuals look especially messy when you fly over the lit up city at night, and that city plays into another issue where the enemy fighters and your own ship can get lost in the visual noise. Almost all objects have earthy colors which do not pair well with the desert stretches and dark tones of the night levels, but it’s not an issue that completely hampers the gameplay, just one that further undermines what should have been an interesting art direction. The fighters aren’t that interesting either, many variations on triangular shapes and metal x beams firing at you with the rare cool design thrown in like the satellites or the slightly different satellites. The real strange thing, despite all the work that went into the visuals, if you had no prior knowledge about it going into the game, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake them for typical computer generated models.
I won’t spend any more time on the visuals because the process of their creation is far more interesting than the end product, so we move onto the gameplay. The Blue Flamingo is a vertical shoot-’em-up, your ship, the titular Blue Flamingo, packing machine guns, slowly firing rockets, and a recharging bomb to do screen clears with. That is the extent of your arsenal, but The Blue Flamingo can be upgraded in two ways. By shooting down enemies and collecting coins during play, you get cash towards an upgrade system. However, your cash is also your high score, so if you choose to spend it, you will be cutting into your potential to hit the leaderboards. The only real problem with this system is how minimal its effects are on play. Upgrading your bomb only makes it come online a little quicker, and usually the bomb won’t need to be active too often so long as your shooting is okay. Upgrading your shooting has tiny payoffs in taking down tougher enemy ships faster, but there’s a point where the returns for that investment are nearly negligible so you can focus on building up your score. The sad thing is, even with these factors making it easy to build up points, the leaderboards aren’t that populated and might not ever be, with the top spots filled by some absurd scores but the placements after those far too achievable. The game banks solely on its visual appeal and the thrill of getting the high score, so when both come up short, things aren’t looking very good for the flight of The Blue Flamingo.
Despite repeating the same level over and over again, the game does seem to understand the idea behind a difficulty curve. Things start off simple to teach you the game, but The Blue Flamingo does sort of spill out most of its interesting enemy designs in the first two stages, leaving you with little new to encounter as you continue on through the endless loop. They do start piling more of the difficult enemies on screen at once as you progress, but there’s nothing akin to a boss or special enemy arrangement to really test your shooting skill. There are end of level target practice sessions to earn coins that break away from the constant aerial combat, but it’s equally simplistic, just consisting of shooting red targets and not shooting green to get you some extra cash. Your endless run will come to a close when you run out of health on your ship, and while it has a pretty sturdy hull, you can’t recover any health lost. This is for the best though, as the game will run out of interesting challenges far too quickly and there needs to be something to eject you from the game besides losing your patience with the monotony. At least the music in the background has a nice western flair to it, but neither sound nor visuals can cover up a gameplay design that put in the bare minimum of effort to qualify as a video game.
THE VERDICT: The phrase “style over substance” is a reviewer’s standby, and it would be all too easy to whip it out for a title like The Blue Flamingo, but this game manages to undermine its impressive visual feat as well. Blurring the images, animating the models lazily, and repeating them too often with no variation makes The Blue Flamingo’s intended charm wear thin far too quickly, which only matches the shallow gameplay’s immediate descent into repetition.
And so, I give The Blue Flamingo for PC…
A TERRIBLE rating. Spreading the most basic elements of a vertical shooter over a slow loop of the same environment, The Blue Flamingo’s gameplay does not feel thought out at all. The “paying points for upgrades” system had potential that was ruined by how minimal the upgrades are, so you’re left with a game that’s trying to enter your Steam library on the impressiveness of its creation alone. I don’t know why games like The Blue Flamingo and N.E.R.O. seem to think you must sacrifice compelling gameplay for visual appeal, especially since the gaming market has plenty of examples of games like RiME and Cuphead that have managed to deliver on both fronts. The Blue Flamingo might amuse you for its first two stages, but once the game reveals its emptiness, you’ll realize you’ve signed up for a dull ride that only has the hollow promise of placing high on the leaderboard to keep you going beyond that.
I do realize that many people might just have a desire to support the arts and might pick up The Blue Flamingo anyway just for what it tried to do. After all, games with striking visual directions like this game often draw my interest as well. However, the developers Might and Delight seem to have made other games with unique visuals and a more compelling interactive side, so while the creation of The Blue Flamingo is interesting to learn about, there are better artistic curiosities out there that deserve the attention more and ones that aren’t shackled needlessly to empty gameplay.