What do you get if you combine two of the greatest novelty hits of all time – “The Birdie Song” by The Tweets with Black Lace’s “Do The Conga”? Why, Flicky of course! Flicky was an arcade game from Sega which featured birdies doing the conga.
Now, for those who weren’t around in the eighties, or those that were but didn’t attend any school discos or get invited to any parties, “The Birdie Song” and “Do The Conga” were the dancefloor anthems of the time. As soon as the DJ span a record containing either of the tracks, there was an instant, almost hypnotizing, effect on everybody in hearing distance of the speakers. “The Birdie Song” convinced people that it was okay to begin waddling around the room while making chicken actions with their arms, wiggling their bottoms and mimicing the laying of eggs. And in the chorus bit, to join up their hands in the centre of a circle and then spin around. And then go the other way. Barn dance style.
And then there was “Do The Conga” from the kings of novelty record, Black Lace. As soon as this classic began playing, people would suddenly start walking with their arms out in front of them. They’d grab onto a person in front and follow them around. Other people would join on at the back, or the leading person would join onto somebody in front of them. Eventually everybody in the room will have been roped into forming a train, cocking their legs and arms out at random intervals, and they would snake their way around the dance floor, or if it was a party in a house, into random rooms around it, for the entire three minutes of the song. And when it was over they’d give themselves a round of applause for a conga well done. And wonder where their drink has gone. Great stuff. That sort of behavior would only be acceptable in the eighties. Nowadays grabbing somebody from behind and stalking them around a room would invite all kinds of accusations of sexual harassment.
As an aside, I saw Black Lace live once. Well, one member of Black Lace. I’m not sure who it was because I think there’s been about fifty members of them since they formed in the 70s, but he was definitely one of them. It was in a bar in Benidorm back in 2005. There were about six of us in there sitting at tables surrounding a tiny dance floor. The solo Black Lace performer came out and stood in front of what looked like Disco Dave’s Mobile Disco. He performed some of their greatest hits – “Agadoo”, “Superman”, “Wig Wam Bam”, “I Am the Music Man” and, of course, “Do The Conga”. But it didn’t really have the desired effect of getting people onto the dancefloor to act out the actions of the songs. So he stood there dancing by himself and singing about pushing pineapples, shaking trees and grinding coffee while his audience stared into their San Miguel glasses thinking that the awkwardness would never end.
Anyway, back to Flicky. Flicky was originally released in 1984 by Sega as an arcade game. It was going to be called Busty, but this was changed as it would cause unnecessary sniggering by arcade-goers thinking that it was going to be about lady lumps. According to the legend that is Wikipedia, the game was planned in 1983 to replicate the success of Namco’s game Mappy. The inspiration for the game was actually a pop song called “電線音頭”, which could quite feasibly be Japanese for “The Birdie Song” or “Do the Conga”. Or both combined. Who knows? Well, apart from people who can understand Japanese. Further research reveals that the song is something about sparrows. It’s strange how influential our feathered flying friends were in music in the past. As well as the Japanese Sparrow Song, and "The Birdie Song" mentioned earlier, Fleetwood Mac sang about an Albatross, Michael Jackson sang about a Rockin’ Robin, Middle of the Road did “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” and Manfred Mann sang about a Pretty Flamingo. Then of course there groups like The Byrds, The Eagles and Flock of Seagulls. And I suppose you could count Wings. But what do we have today? Catchy pop from Taylor “I’m not going to stop until I’ve tried to trademark every word in the dictionary” Swift, and some crap from Drake.
Where was I? 735 words in and so far all I’ve mentioned about Flicky is that it was an arcade game featuring birds, it was developed to better Mappy, and had its name changed from Busty to get the thought of boobs out of peoples’ minds. The aim of the game is to guide a blue jay named Flicky around a level, picking up chicks called Chirps that are scattered in different parts of the screen. Each time Flicky picks up a Chirp, it follows her. Pick up another, and it joins onto the line too. Then another, and another, and another, until Flicky and the Chirps are congoing their way around the level. Pooping the party somewhat are a couple of cats who will either disturb the line which causes some of the Chirps to lose their place in it, or they’ll just attack Flicky and cause her to lose a life. Flicky can of course go back to collect the Chirps that are running loose, and they’ll rejoin the chain. To save the Chirps, there is a doorway in each level. Walking up to the doorway causes whatever Chirps Flicky has following her to enter it. Flicky can take one Chirp there at a time, or can take multiples. For mega points, she can try to take the full batch in one go.
In the arcade version, it isn’t just cats that cause a nuisance. There are iguanas called Iggys which are also intent on spoiling Flicky’s fun. For either animal, Flicky can attempt to avoid them, or she collect items located across the level and throw them at her enemies. She does this simply by jumping which releases the item in the direction that she is facing. The kinds of items that she finds are cups, combs, saucers, and, um, guns. Maybe Donald Trump has a point about the influence that video games have on the gun nutters in his country. These games need banning. It's the only way that Americans are going to understand how to use their guns responsibly.
Each level is made up of platforms which Flicky must navigate around simply by moving left or right and by jumping. The levels are fairly small wraparound screens, so if you see an enemy head off the screen on the right, it won’t be long until they reappear from the left.
Flicky was converted to a number of computers and consoles, mostly in Japan where the game was most well-known. The first device to receive a version was the SG-1000, Sega's very first console. The SG-1000 had quite limited success, only getting a release in Japan and New Zealand. It was launched in 1983 at around the same time as Nintendo launched their Famicom, but failed to compete with the technical superiority and might of Nintendo’s now legendary console. Plus its horrible joystick style controller was hard-wired into the console. A revision, the SG-1000 II was technically identical, but looked less toy-like and came with detachable controllers which now resembled Nintendo's in style and function. Sega revised the console again in 1985, this time boosting its technical specs to exceed those of the Famicom. This new model was the Sega Mark III, which would later get a facelift and go onto become the Sega Master System, the first console that gave Sega any real international success. Well anywhere where Nintendo hadn't already beaten them to market. But by then, the SG-1000 was all but abandoned. Although the Mark III and Japanese version of the Sega Master System were backwards compatible with SG-1000 games, elsewhere they weren't, so there was no reason to continue making games for it. Between 1983 and 1986 only about 70 games were released for the SG-1000. Even so, they included versions of some popular arcade titles of the time, games such as Hang-On (as Hang-On 2), Bank Panic, Elevator Action, Wonder Boy, Zippy Race, Galaga, Choplifter, Space Invaders, Monaco GP, and of course, Flicky.
As a game in its own right, Flicky on the SG-1000 is quite frustrating. The main character moves responsively to your controls and zips around the screen at a good rate, which is essential for a game which is basically a digital version of a cat and mouse chase. Well, cat and bird. But what is also essential in a game which features screens full of platforms is the ability for you to be able to make pixel-perfect jumps onto them in your attempt to evade your pursuers. However Flicky has an annoying habit of bouncing off the edge of platforms even though it looks like you've timed your jump perfectly. This poor collision detection is especially noticeable on the very first level, which is strangely tough for your introduction to the game. It is possible to get used to the flaw in the jumping mechanic, and even sometimes use it to your advantage by using it as a quick way of changing direction while in flight, but as you get deeper into the game and the chases get more intense there are times where getting caught seems unfair.
Despite that annoyance, the game is actually quite fun. Each time you play it, you're able to get that little bit further than the time before as you learn and memorise your optimum route around each level. It has that just-one-more-go effect that old arcade games had. You'll always start each level with the intention to get all of the Chirps in one line before getting them to safety but more often than not it doesn't go quite to plan. You either have your line disturbed by one of the cats, which leaves you having to leap from platform to platform to recapture your Chirps in a manic chase around the screen, or you accidentally go past the doorway which saves your Chirps before you've managed to get them all. Getting them all home in one go earns you more points than doing each one at the time, and feels more satisfying too.
Graphically, things are as good as you'd expect for such an old console and work well for the type of game. Scrolling is smooth, plain backgrounds make it clear to see what's going on in the foregrounds, and its easy to identify what the pixellated sprites are meant to be. Flicky is well animated, with her fluttering her way around the level and showing annoyance when she gets caught. If you bring her to a stop, she makes a little skidding animation too. The Chirps waddle as they follow you around the level, and the animations for how the cats run and leap around the place are also very well done. Flicky is quite a flickery game though, but this doesn't really affect how the game plays.
There's a continuous tune playing as you play the game which again suits the game but can get a bit annoying after a while. It's not a bad rendition of the arcade game music though. The bonus level, where you have to catch chicks in a net, has a different tune, and there are little ditties when you lose lives or complete the level. There are also quite a few sound effects too which once again do suit the game. As an example, the chicks make a tweeting sound when they get caught by the cats. It all works together rather well.
As a conversion of an arcade game, it's not bad at all. The rather simplistic nature of the arcade original means that this was an ideal candidate for a home console port. Obviously the graphics and sound can't be arcade standard, and there were some layout changes to the levels too and fewer levels overall, plus the removal of the iguanas as enemies, but overall the game does feel and play like Flicky. It's just a shame about the bouncing off the edges of platforms as this ruins what could have been a really good game. It's probably not something that you'll play for a lengthy period of time, and quickly gets quite challenging, but is something that is easy enough to keep coming back to so that you can better your performance.
Of course, the SG-1000 verson wasn't the only port of Flicky. As well as appearing on a number of other Japanese computers and consoles, Flicky also showed up on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991 and was probably the first time that western audiences were even aware of the existence of the game. As you'd expect, the Mega Drive version was very similar to the arcade version coming so many years after its original release. Fortunately it doesn't have the bouncy platform problem of the SG-1000 version and is a great game as a result. Interestingly in Japan, it was only available as a download through Sega's online service, Sega Game Toshokan (Sega Game Library). It regularly reappears in compilations of Mega Drive/Genesis games (including a forthcoming one for the PS4, Xbox One and PC), or can be purchased on its own through Steam and it's definitely worth giving it a go. Shame they don't do a SG-1000 collection though. Maybe as an unlockable bonus somewhere. Yes, I feel that the world needs to experience SG-1000 Flicky.