Flying Red Barrel – The Diary of a Little Aviator Review – Little Big Shmup

    Title: Flying Red Barrel - The Diary of a Little Red Aviator
    Developer: 100% Orange Juice
    Release Date: June 19, 2020
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Fruitbat Factory
    Genre: Shmup

This may or may not surprise some people, but 100% Orange Juice is still a thing. Surprisingly, the online multiplayer tabletop game has the same momentum in 2020 as it did when most of us first played it in high school. However, there was a game that released within this over-the-top universe that might have flown over your radar.

Flying Red Barrel – The Diary of a Little Aviator is a shmup that borrows familiar aesthetics from 100% Orange Juice and even unlocks some special bonuses in the base game. Still, even beyond this loyal fanbase, Flying Red Barrel has something interesting to offer to shmup players irrespective of their familiarity with all things Orange Juice.

Flying Red Barrel – The Diary of a Little Aviator falls comfortably into a shmup sub-genre known as cute ’em ups. First pioneered by Konami’s NES classic TwinBee, a cute ’em up is generally characterized by adorable character designs and bright, friendly colors. The actual shooting action is anything but cute, though, because the action is as intense and challenging as any other game in the genre. Flying Red Barrel is charming and inviting in its presentation, but it doesn’t take long to appreciate how steep the challenge is right out of the gate.

What stands out about the shooting action in the opening moments of the first stage is how most enemies, even the smallest of the grunts, have a health bar that must be chipped away. This is quite unusual for a shmup given that no enemies can be instantly taken down, especially when the titular Flying Red Barrel doesn’t have a health bar and goes down with a single hit. This definitely hurts the balancing and pacing given that the player mechanics and enemy mechanics just aren’t very consistent within the overall gameplay design.

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Besides that, Flying Red Barrel has a decent difficulty curve with an organic flow of enemy types of increasing complexity. The Flying Red Barrel itself comes with a twin machine gun and a sub-weapon that is quite unconventional. Typically a sub-weapon in a shmup is some type of screen-filling bomb which clears all the enemies onscreen, but here it’s a powerful missile that must be aimed carefully. This missile attack deals some massive damage, but it’s only instrumental during boss encounters. Speaking of, the boss encounters are probably the most enjoyable part of the adventure, where it’s all about destroying weak spots across numerous phases.

Flying Red Barrel plays it by the books for the most part during missions, offerings upgrades, and coins to collect throughout the level. However, these collectibles are almost impossible to collect as they disappear off the side of the screen before I can get to them. Regardless, the campaign as a whole is generally enjoyable, especially thanks to the presentation.

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Flying Red Barrel has a charming and adorable cartoon presentation, making great use of soft cel-shaded graphics similar to shmups like the rare Radirgy on Dreamcast. The character designs are similar to the art of 100% Orange Juice and fit well with the visual style and presentation. There’s a bit of story too with lots of dialogue, but it’s tough to follow at times. Basically our hero is on a mission to fight all sorts of villains such as sky pirates, mad geniuses, and other ace pilots. With a title like “Little Aviator,” almost everyone underestimates our protagonist until they are defeated. Still, even if the story is confusing, the happy, uplifting music carries the experience quite nicely.

The main campaign has five main stages with different difficulty paths, although even the easiest route can prove to be quite the challenge. There is a practice mode to help players master stages and improve their score, but you can only practice stages already beaten in the main campaign. Modes and difficulty settings aside, there’s a bit of content with multiple endings and the like, but as a shmup, it covers all the necessary bases when it comes to features and content.

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Flying Red Barrel – The Diary of a Little Red Aviator is a fairly average shmup that doesn’t do too much other than let you shoot down endless enemy ships. Outside of its charming presentation and unique boss encounters, there’s not much here to return to after you play through it a few times, even with the multiple endings. Still, if you’re a fan of 100% Orange Juice, then you’ll probably enjoy the change of pace.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!