Flying Hero is a Super Famicom shooter developed by STING, but that’s not the game I’m writing about. I’m writing about the Famicom’s Flying Hero, a firefighting game released under Sony’s “Epic” label over in Japan. Players control Jedward, who run around with a trampoline and bounce a noble firefighter high into the air. Bouncing into fires puts them out, and bouncing into people rescues them; a level ends when either all fires are extinquished or all civilians are rescued. It’s kind of like Breakout, just without all the breaking. I can see why kids would dig this.
When The Gay Gamer suggested I write about Flying Hero, he warned me that it was archaic. He speculated that it may have been a very early Famicom title; after playing the game, I agreed. Then I did some research and learned it was published in 1989.
For readers who don’t remember 1989, other games released that year include Ninja Gaiden, Rolling Thunder, Mega Man 2, and The Colonel’s Bequest.
Here’s the thing: despite its primitive appearance, Flying Hero is actually pretty damn polished. When the firefighter bounces into a flaming window, the blaze shrinks, but it also drops a fireball (they can burn the trampoline) and a special item. Most items are beneficial in some way, although the hammer damages Jedward’s trampoline. Stranded civilians sometimes leap from windows in desperation. Birds and UFOs get in the way. Basically, there’s a ton of stuff happening onscreen, and you’ve got to catch as many items and leaping civilians as possible, while avoiding fireballs and making sure the fireman never goes “splat”.
It takes talent to successfully build a playable single-screen game with so much concurrent action. Flying Hero is said to have been developed by AiCOM, the same company that is said to have developed The Legendary Axe, so the polish applied to such a simple concept doesn’t surprise me. I never felt the game unfair; I was always able to follow what was happening onscreen and I was always able to identify an item before catching it. Whenever I screwed up, I knew it was due to my own inadequacy, and I knew that practice would lead to success. That’s a sign of balanced game design.
Some of the items get pretty wild. The trumpet summons a raincloud that quenches all the fires, so you’ve got to keep the firefighter alive until the rain of terror ends. Another item summons a helicopter — bounce into it while holding a rescuee and the firefighter is whisked off to a bonus stage in the clouds where treasure and 1-ups abound. Grab the “key” item to enter the building and play the sidescrolling game Burning Ranger, climbing from one floor to the next while hosing down fireballs, rescuing civilians, dodging explosives, and searching for the exit.
The inclusion of extra stages in a ball-bouncing game reminds me of Devil’s Crush, and that’s a good thing.
Flying Hero does have its foibles, such as the sporadic super-tall stages. Some castles and skyscrapers tower two screens high, such that the fireman bounces around so far up in the air that the trampoline can’t be seen. When the fireman returns to the ground, you’ll discover that the trampoline automatically moved to his position . . . which makes it easy to survive and impossible to collect the special items. End result: the double-sized stages lack tension.
Thank goodness those levels are the exception.