Learn 2 Fly: The Emperor Strikes Back
Summer is often a season of sequels, a season of unimaginative rehashings of proven hits, hoping that the sweaty populace will be too befuddled to notice that the movie or game they're consuming is exactly the same as its predecessor only with all the charm and surprise sucked out. That's why Learn 2 Fly is as refreshing as a blast of south pole air. It's been more than a year since the original Learn to Fly, where audiences were charmed by the plucky penguin seeking to launch himself out of the "non-flying" category in Kiwipedia. It was a stand-out in its genre despite being a pretty simple game.
It's been a year since then, but developer Light Bringer has clearly not been wasting that time. This game is better than the original in every possible way. More gameplay modes. More interesting upgrades. More customization. More secrets, tricks, challenges, and achievements. More replay value. Even the cut scenes are better, and if you remember the cut scenes from the original that's an impressive achievement indeed. The penguin has awoken from his coma and is still in sure of internet vindication of his reputation. A fool's errand, yes, but a funny one. At least this time he has the foresight to use a penguin shaped sack as his test dummy.
There are three gameplay modes: story, classic, and arcade. Story mode introduces the new twist of obstacles, such as the iceberg that was your downfall in the first game, that must be destroyed in order to triumph. Classic mode is the same general idea as the first game, that is, fly to the right as far as you can. Arcade mode provides three different set budgets and the idea is to get as great a score as you can with only that amount of money and no more.
You can choose between keyboard controls ([right] and [left] arrow keys and [spacebar] to control boosts) or mouse (move the cursor to control angle, click for boosts). Between launches, you can spend your money on a better launch pad, gliders, balloons, rockets, and other things to go faster, higher, and farther. You can also earn bonus points for completing certain challenges, which you can use in the bonus shop to buy what are essentially built-in cheats. You can lower gravity, reduce drag, even rig the calendar in your favor. The cool thing is that these bonus shop items carry over between games, so you can restart the game with them already in place.
Analysis: In order to maintain my disinterested reviewer cred, I ought to say something negative about the game somewhere, so I'll get that out of the way. Sometimes the link in the lower right hand corner in the shop to the mobile game or the t-shirt store partially obscures the page turning button, which is mildly irritating.
That's about as harsh as I can get. Seriously, this game is awesome. One of the main problems with the launch genre is that you hit that plateau where you're just grinding to save up for the next upgrade in the linear sequence. Learn 2 Fly's upgrades branch in different directions, so you can use those lulls to try different combinations to see which one fits your individual playing style. Do you prefer to use sheer impact to destroy obstacles, or would you rather explode them? Do you want to go fast and furious, or slow and steady? And there's a ton of challenges and medals to try for as well, from the predictable speed and distance milestones, to attempting to go backwards. Not to mention the eight secrets the game claims to harbor.
When you've already released one smash hit, it must be tempting to just rush out another sequel as soon as possible in order to keep a hold on the fickle attention spans of internet gamers. It's great to see a developer who's clearly so willing to put in the time, and also to listen to his fans (the diving challenges are a direct result of user response to the first game, for example). I hope it won't take another year to get the next game in this series, but there's almost enough goodies in this one to keep you occupied until then even if it does.