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Flying Red Barrel ~ The Diary of a Little Aviator ~

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Fruitbat Factory
Developer: Orange Juice
Release Date: June 19, 2020


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PC Review - 'Flying Red Barrel: The Diary of a Little Aviator'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 11, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Flying Red Barrel ~ The Diary of a Little Aviator ~ is an old-school bullet hell/STG game with multiple endings based on actions you take.

Flying Red Barrel: The Diary of a Little Aviator was originally released in Japan in December 2007, with a Western release less than two years later in September 2009. While it did get released to a number of digital storefronts, it was never released on Steam. Thirteen years after the game's initial release, Flying Red Barrel finally arrives on Steam thanks to the developer's new publisher, Fruitbat Factory.

Flying Red Barrel is set a little after the dawn of aviation. With this newfound technology becoming popular, all sorts of people have taken to the skies to pioneer a frontier that once seemed unreachable. As the skies have the potential to become lawless, a group now known as The Guild has formed to enforce some order before things become chaotic. You play the role of Marc, a young pilot and member of The Guild who flies around the world to ensure that justice is kept in the skies.

Like many of Orange_Juice's games, Flying Red Barrel is drenched in a deceptively cute presentation. The graphics feature a bold yet simple cartoon style that is reminiscent of the old Dreamcast and GameCube shooter, Radirgy. Lines are thick, and the colors pop with a limited palette, but the game's ability to handle lots of objects and cartoon explosions on-screen without a hitch shows that the engine is powerful enough. The sound effects are good, and the music is cheerful yet not saccharine. It works well for the genre without feeling too cute or too action-packed.

The game is presented as a vertical "bullet hell" shooter, but only the most basic elements are retained. Every enemy is capable of a number of bullet patterns, and you only have to worry about a dot on your plane taking damage from the bullets. From here, just about everything is done differently from the rest of the genre offerings. A good example of this comes from the regular enemies, none of whom go down with just one hit. From the lowly birds all the way to mid-level bosses and the end-of-level bosses, every enemy you meet has an energy meter and takes more than a few shots to take down. On the one hand, this prevents the game from being an explosion-fest until you reach the bosses, and that's a nice change from other titles. On the other hand, it makes the game more difficult, since you die after one bullet.

Another change comes from the bomb mechanic that has become a staple of the shooter genre. Instead of clearing out all on-screen bullets and enemies at once, the bomb is like a powered-up shot. You still need to aim it, and it doesn't take up much space, but it runs through all of the enemies except for the bosses. While they are limited, they can be replenished with the coins dropped from fallen foes, providing a steady stream of bombs that can be fired if you keep scooping up the available coins.

The other change is more of a subtraction, as the game features no power-ups. Coins are the only thing you'll pick up, but there's no way to power up your regular gun, and the secondary weapon is always a bomb. This is as basic as you'll get in a shooter, but the weapons feel powerful when compared to default weapons in other games.

All of the aforementioned changes make for a tough game that doesn't feel cheap, since the bullet patterns aren't too ridiculous, and ship-to-ship collisions are a rarity. Even on the easiest difficulty level, Flying Red Barrel presents enough of a challenge that the five levels feel about right. If that still feels too short, know that there are 18 different endings here, and all of them are based on gameplay criteria, like defeating certain enemies quickly enough or leaving some foes alone. Luckily, while the game gives you no hint about how to get each ending, the community has provided countless guides over the past 13 years.

Flying Red Barrel forces you to get skilled when playing, as it takes on the classic technique of having a limited pool of continues to contend with. You only have three continues when you start the game, and there's no option to start with more continues or more lives. Coupled with the fact that the game gives you no opportunity to earn more lives via points or coins, and you're faced with a title that forces you to practice if you want to see at least one ending, let alone all 18. It may take some players by surprise, especially those who have grown up on endless continues from other bullet hell shooters, but it feels like a proper challenge for those who try to see how far they can get in a shooter with only one credit.

It would've been nice if the game featured more beyond the campaign. There's a practice mode, but that's only good for replaying levels you've already beaten. The game has leaderboards for every difficulty level and for every ending, but they're all local, which robs any incentive for players to improve. This is also a solo-only affair, which is a shame, since bullet hell shooters seem to be gradually getting rid of co-op.

Flying Red Barrel: The Diary of a Little Aviator is solid. The back-to-basics shooting feels good, as do the difficulty and the changes, like a limited continue pool. One really needs to put in some effort to see this through to the end. Its age means that it lags behind its contemporaries in terms of graphical options and online hooks, but for genre fans, those elements matter very little when the gameplay is still going strong.

Score: 7.0/10

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