Indie Heroes: Flea! will get you hopping mad

The Evercade’s “Indie Heroes” cartridge plays host to a variety of brand new games for classic platforms — and even if you don’t have an Evercade, you can try most of these for yourself in one way or another! Let’s explore them in detail!


Many of the classic platformers of yesteryear were, to a certain extent, infuriating by accident. Particularly in the early days of the video game medium, a lot of developers were still learning the best way to implement various type of mechanical genre — and that meant a lot of trial and error until some solid conventions became established.

Fast forward to today, however, and infuriating platformers are now a deliberate creation of dastardly developers who want us to suffer. Flea! from Lowtek Games falls somewhat into this latter category, though it isn’t quite as punishing as some games out there I could mention — and I’d argue that it doesn’t want its players to suffer so much as it does see them push themselves. It is, in many ways, a contrasting approach to Doodle World’s good-natured jump-and-run action.

Flea!

In Flea! you take on the role of Henry the hyperactive flea, who can’t stop jumping. Or sucking blood. Actually, that’s not quite true; Henry seems more keen to collect bottles of blood rather than sucking it himself, because he’s all about convenience. He’s also on a quest. A quest to jump and to suck blood. And to perhaps fulfil his dreams — though what those dreams might be, we couldn’t possibly say. Do you know what fleas dream about?

Flea! requires a bit of adjusting to, because, as noted, our hero is a platform game protagonist who cannot stop jumping. You can make him jump a bit lower than normal with the tap of a button, yes, but otherwise, he is continuously jumping every second or so — which means that timing is absolutely crucial as you make your way through the increasingly perilous levels.

Thankfully, Flea! is an extremely generous game when it comes to lives. While it doesn’t offer completely unlimited lives in the same way as titles for modern platforms such as Super Meat Boy, it does absolutely bombard you with them; as you collect vials of blood over the course of the various levels, these can be converted to lives every few stages, meaning you’ll quickly build up a gigantic stock of lives to spend on the game’s more challenging situations.

Flea!

And there are plenty of challenging situations to deal with. The game’s level designs start off pretty straightforward and introduce you to new level elements and gimmicks at a good pace to constantly keep you on your toes. The fact that this is probably going to be a difficult game to complete makes itself clear fairly early on, but at the same time it never feels unreasonable; every problem has a solution, and it’s immensely satisfying when you finally figure out said solution. Even more so when you successfully execute that solution to progress onwards through the game!

Presentation-wise, Flea! is excellent, bearing in mind the limitations of the NES as its original host platform. The action is accompanied by several inordinately catchy tunes that suit the bouncy action well, and the visuals are packed with personality. There’s a rather strong emphasis on things that look like big hairy bollocks (and a few enemies who can be argued to look a touch penile) but never the feeling that the game is setting out to offend as such; rather, it’s simply creating a distinctive aesthetic that just happens to err on the side of “amusingly gross” — whether deliberately or coincidentally.

In terms of gameplay, Flea! is likewise highly enjoyable to play. Its single-screen levels present a wide variety of platforming puzzles to overcome, with some requiring precision timing and positioning, while others allow you to go wild with the game’s mechanics and enjoy making huge leaps across the width of the entire screen. The game has an enjoyable pace that ebbs and flows; after presenting you with an obnoxiously difficult stage, you’ll often have a level or two that can be ripped through as a “reward”. It’s considerate design that acknowledges how players don’t necessarily want to feel constantly infuriated when playing a challenging game.

And having spent literally a hundred lives on one particularly irritating level, I welcome this generosity.

Flea!

While the single-screen stages make up the majority of the game’s 80 levels, there are also a number of “boss” stages, too; rather than being straightforward fights, these are autoscrolling levels where you simply have to survive to the end point. These provide a nice bit of variety to how the game flows and don’t feel out of place; the mechanics remain consistent, so all you have to do is get to grips with using them in a situation where the scenery ahead of you is constantly changing rather than remaining static. Trickier than it sounds!

Flea! is a well-designed and well-presented game that, although being a modern release for a classic platform, feels right at home on the NES. This is a game that would have been a big hit alongside other single-screen platformers in the early to mid ’80s; it feels authentic to play, yet it also understands more modern gaming considerations such as how today’s players don’t want to be forced all the way back to the beginning of a tough game after making just a few mistakes.

In short, it’s a very enjoyable part of the Indie Heroes collection for the Evercade — and can also be enjoyed through a variety of other means, too!

Flea is available as part of the Indie Heroes Collection 1 cartridge for Evercade. You can also pick it up via Steam and Itch, and native versions are available for Dreamcast and NES.

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