A Sea Gull Company
The folks at splax.net who brought us FoolYoo and Friend Chase are back with what may be their best yet: a bizarre racing platformer they like to call A Sea Gull Company. So that's what we'll call it too! Bizarre!
At the start of a stage, you'll see a succession of little dudes in sailor caps popping out of thin air as if from an invisible clown car. Watch for the one dressed in white — that's you! Be ready to hit the ground running, because it's a mad race across a strange Nintendo-inspired world fraught with bottomless pits, spiked boxcars, moving platforms, and fireball-spewing, uhhh... whatever those things are. You may choose either the [arrow] keys or the mouse to control your guy, but be sure to specify which before you begin a stage. Touch each of the checkpoints in order, then use the final ramp to build up speed and leap across the chasm to the ridiculously gigantic finish bell. Collect flowers along the way to increase your score. You'll be competing against eleven other sailors who will show you how to get things done — and how to fail in hilarious ways. That's because each one is actually the "ghost" of someone who played the level before you. A Sea Gull Company saved their movements and recreated them as your opponents!
Because they cannot physically interact with you, these ghost opponents do not have any direct impact on your progress through the levels. However, by watching them, you can pick up on some survival tricks. You'll probably need them too, because these are not easy stages, and one wrong move will end your run like an airhorn to the ear ends your visions of sugar plums. Expect your frustrations to mount, especially during the later stages. If there's one solace you may take from your many deaths, it is that each will be commemorated in some future game by a box with your name in it marking the exact location of failure.
Analysis: The mechanic here is pretty standard for a platformer, but the added effect of replaying other players' attempts adds a new, faintly communal dimension to A Sea Gull Company. In fact, you can even leave messages for future players by pressing [enter] during play. Unless you exit to the menu, your fellow racers will remain the same with each retry, so you'll get to know them pretty well and will be able to judge how well or how poorly you are doing relative to your previous attempts. It adds a bit of artificially-enhanced replay value to the game; playing the same level with different opponents can make it feel like a new challenge, even if you're really just going through the same motions. Plus, it's kinda neat to recognize yourself from a past life, though perhaps a little depressing to see yourself die.
As for the music, I have never seen sound add so much to a game as in A Sea Gull Company. The minor-keyed trumpet fanfare in conjunction with the outpouring of sailors at the start evokes the madness of The Running of the Bulls, and the sense of urgency is maintained throughout the stage by the booming timpani. Like me, you may find yourself clenching your fist and shaking it in time with the dooming chord progression that signifies yet another premature death.
There are a couple of quirks worth mentioning, though none that drastically affect the gameplay. Occasionally, immediately after a jump, you are allowed an extra jump in midair, though I was never able to perfect the technique well enough to put it to regular use. However, the midair jump is also available just after your sailor pops into existence at the beginning of the stage, and if utilized correctly saves you a good number of seconds on at least one of the stages. Also, holding the jump button down while your sailor is off the top of the screen will give you another midair jump. It's hard to say whether these bonus jumps are bugs or features, though. Another thing I noticed is that occasionally you will change your spawn position on a restart, which can mess up your timing on certain stages.
Overall though, A Sea Gull Company makes for a real treat for platformer fans of all types, but feels enough like a free-for-all race that those who might normally pass on the platformers will find something to like.