Gather round readers. It’s story time.
Picture it… Sicily… 1933… your Grandfather and I were attending… oh wait a sec. I slipped into a Sophia Petrillo flashback. Not me at all. I shall start again.
Columbus, Ohio. Saturday April 30th 2005. US Amusements is holding their second arcade equipment auction of the year at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
The auction began at 10am, and after the initial two hours of neon beer signs, billiard ball sets, boxes of assorted parts, and countertop touch screen games, they began spotlighting the actual full size video arcade games. The auctioneers moved slowly down the row of games, one at a time, as titles like Defender, Discs of Tron, Super Pac-Man, and a widebody Mario Bros were won by happy bidders. Farther down the row came machines like Ring King… Special Criminal Investigation… Time Pilot… Buster Bros… Playchoice 10… the hits just kept on comin’!
Around 9am, during the pre-auction preview period, I checked out a rather interesting machine. A dedicated Bally/Midway Flicky, working all the way and in great condition to boot! It featured a bright, crisp picture on the monitor, a beautiful marquee, and the cabinet suffered from no water damage or mold, which are major nemeses of classic arcade video games.
It was sandwiched between two sloppy conversions… a Shinobi in a Punch Out cabinet (which retained the vertically stacked monitors), and a Roc ‘N Rope in a Super Cobra cab (with the Super Cobra bezel still in place), making the Flicky look like even more of a shining jewel by comparison.
As the crowd eventually tightened around these cabinets, I realized that the guy standing next to me was bidding on the Flicky. After some tense moments in which the auctioneers were trying to squeeze another $10 bid out of the crowd… he ended up winning the Flicky at $200.00 even. I congratulated the winning bidder who told me the Flicky was a gift for his wife, as the rare Midway title was among her favorite classic games. It does my heart good to hear that a classic game is going to somebody who will appreciate it, even more so when it’s a married couple that will appreciate it together.
Now, as for me, I went home empty handed from that auction, but I did begin playing Flicky rather frequently in MAME and found it to be very addictive and worthy of the Lost Arcade Classic title. So, now, four and a half years after my first encounter with the game, let me present Flicky!
The gameplay is simple enough. By controlling a little blue bird named Flicky, the player corrals a brood of ducklings into safe rooms, away from the advances of attacking cats. The action takes place inside a rather bizarre house, the floors of which are separated into platforms that Flicky can jump down from, wander across, and fly up to. Falling from any height is safe, and the ducklings will follow you anywhere. Approaching either edge of the screen causes the house to scroll and “wrap around”, and each house is approximately the length of two full monitor images.
Cats chase Flicky and the ducklings (which would have been a killer name for a 1950’s pop group!), and care should be taken to avoid the felines at all costs. When a cat touches a duckling, the baby bird leaves the brood, and wanders away on its own. Flicky must then pick up the duckling again to add him back to the flock and guide him to the safe room along with his siblings. It’s interesting that the cats simply disrupt the following instinct of the baby ducks, and do not actually cause them harm. The furry felines also don’t hurt Flicky, but instead cause our blue hero (or perhaps heroine) to sit down and have a good cry, and loose a turn.
Amusingly, the cats can be beaned for 200 points a piece with items found lying around the house, such as flower pots or teacups. A beaned kitty will tumble across the screen, and occasionally leave behind a diamond, which is worth anything from 400 to 3,000 points if grabbed. Beaned cats disappear after a few seconds, and then re-enter the game through one of the many doors peppered throughout the house. Luckily, these furry felines always peek out of the doors for a second or two before they actually enter the house, giving you a moment to spot them and vacate the immediate premises.
The greater the number of ducklings that Flicky guides to the safe rooms simultaneously, the higher the score for the player. For instance, leading only one duckling at a time is worth a paltry 100 points. Leading two at a time is worth a total of 300 points (100 for the first bird, 200 for the second), and guiding three at time is worth 600 points (100, 200, and 300 for the third duckling).
The scores escalate exponentially once you start leading four or more ducklings at once, and if you manage to lead eight to safety in one fell swoop, you add a total bonus of 9,500 points to your score!
Additional bonuses are calculated based on how quickly all the ducklings are rescued. If the player completes the level (leads all the ducklings to safety) in less than 20 seconds, 20,000 points are awarded. Taking up to 30 seconds adds 10,000 points to your score, taking 40 seconds is worth 5,000 points, 50 seconds is worth 1,000 points, and if it takes you more than a minute to finish the level, no points are awarded. This echoes the bonuses in Sega’s 1982 hit Pengo, which featured a similar point schedule.
Continuing a trend associated with Galaga and Gyruss, a no-risk bonus round is presented every few levels. Twenty ducklings are flung into the air from see-saws operated by the cats. Flicky holds a net, and must catch as many of the baby birds as they fall back to Earth. Catching all 20 ducklings is worth 10,000 points, otherwise, its 250 points per duckling. If Flicky misses a duckling, no penalty is incurred, other than the loss of score potential.
And that’s the basics of the game. Each screen presents a new house with a new layout of platforms, and the cats increase in speed and number. Later levels add additional enemies, such as little green lizards which race around the edges of the platforms, and giant frogs that shoot fireballs at Flicky through the windows.
Flicky’s graphics are very charming and cute. The early levels seems to take place in a children’s playhouse, as the walls are decorated with toy train and elephant murals, before progressing to palatial estates showing pyramids outside of cathedral style windows in later levels.
The music and sound effects are top notch as well. The ducklings chirp very satisfyingly when picked up, and the sound of the tumbling cats is appropriately cartoony. Various jingles are played during normal rounds (ducklings in a house), bonus rounds (the see-saws), or during after level breathers, when the game counts up your bonus points. Since researching Flicky for this article, I’ve found myself humming several of these jingles throughout the day, as they are that catchy!
Despite a cat licking his lips on the game’s marquee in (what appears to be) anticipation of a duckling snack, the felines in this game are more mischievously playful than out-and-out destructive. They commit no real violence against Flicky or the ducklings, and they appear to just be “messing with them”, much like schoolyard bullies. As a result, Flicky is a very family friendly title.
Flicky was one of the last of the “cute” games released during the golden era, which is typically defined as ending in ’85 or ’86. Flicky’s simple objective and whimsical graphics enable it to fit nicely alongside the established giants of the cute genre like Pac-Man, Q*Bert, and Burgertime. By the late 80s, cute games became fewer and far between as beat-em-ups, sports and racing simulations, one-on-one fighters, and puzzle games became the dominant genres in the Jamma era.
Flicky was created in Japan by Sega, and licensed to Bally/Midway for stateside manufacturer. Bally/Midway marketed Flicky as part of the “Six-Pack”, a series of easily convertible cabinets that can be quickly changed via a ROM swap into any of the other titles in the series, such as Up N Down, Mr.Viking, Water Match, SWAT, and Bull Fight. In addition to the Bally/Midway “dedicated” Six-Pack machine, conversions kits for the earlier Sega titles Zaxxon and Frogger were also created. Unfortunately, Up N Down was the closest thing the Six-Pack library had to a mainstream success, leaving the rest of the library, including Flicky, to dwindle in obscurity.
Sega must have been particularly fond of the little blue bird, as Flicky makes cameos in several later Sega games. Flicky is hidden within the gameplay of Flash Point and Bloxeed, two arcade titles that ape Tetris, and Sega went so far as to actually feature Flicky on Bloxeed’s marquee! Flicky also makes appearances in the platformer Teddy Boy (Teddy Boy Blues in the U.S.) and the Formula One racer Super Monaco GP.
Additionally, many titles in the Sonic the Hedgehog series feature the little blue bird, most notably the 1996 release Sonic 3D, in which our friend Flicky is shown to belong to a larger species of birds, containing red, pink, and green variants. Typically, the Flicky birds are portrayed as innocents that Sonic must rescue from various constructs that Dr. Robotnik has trapped them inside. If you don’t know who Dr. Robotnik is, go play a Sonic game… you’ll learn soon enough!
So what became of that particular Flicky machine from almost five years ago? Well, almost a year after the auction, I began socializing with that same collector and his wife, Greg and Christy Free, whom are now two of my closest friends. Flicky is often the subject of high score challenges between Greg and myself, and we each regularly top over 120,000 points in our competitions.
And despite a minor setback in which the monitor’s flyback “popped” and needed replacement about 2 years ago, Flicky is still happily rescuing ducklings in the Free family’s magnificent game room to this day, alongside other great titles like Star Wars, Dragon’s Lair, and Tron. As a matter of fact, you can expect a “GameRoom of the Month” article relatively soon regarding their awesome collection and home arcade.
Flicky, simply put, is a great game. It’s very easy to understand, and challenging to master, and it’s a shame it didn’t achieve the popularity that it truly deserved. It’s certainly every bit as charming and approachable as Pac-Man, Frogger, and Q*Bert. Despite its obscurity, the game holds up quite well, even 25 years later. Won’t you come pay Flicky a visit? He can be found in the west garden’s Sega Aviary on the picturesque grounds of the museum of the Lost Arcade Classic.