Fenix Rage

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Green Lava Studios for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2014.
Fenix Rage is a precision platformer that falls into the narrow range of titles considered “rage” platformers, such as Super Meat Boy. Games in this subgenre tend to offer the player fast and responsive controls that must be used with pinpoint timing in order to survive an onslaught of enemies and obstacles with very little room for error. In these kinds of games, players die quickly and frequently, leading to frustration as players repeatedly fail to complete a set of challenges for which they have the requisite tools.

Increasing frustration levels are core to a rage game’s design, as they can lead players to make more mistakes and actually perform worse on future attempts, potentially leading them to “rage quit” and leave the game (often returning later to breeze through a tough challenge with a clear head). This rage-based design is supported by short levels, infinite lives, and instant respawns. Players are free to play and die as often as needed with no additional penalty, and no “game stuff” stands in the way of the experience, like wading through menus or sitting through loading screens before making another attempt.

Fenix Rage adopts the majority of these design philosophies, offering short levels, infinite lives, and instant respawns, along with a narrow moveset that must be used to overcome a variety of challenges. The eponymous Fenix has a 2x nonvariable jump, a wall jump, and a dash move that can be used on the ground or in the air. For added precision, the dash move can be used to cancel a jump, and a jump can cancel a dash.

In most precision platformers, this would be the extent of the moves available to the player, possibly with the addition of a double jump. In Fenix Rage, the protagonist has more than a double jump… and more than a triple jump. Setting itself apart from other entries in the genre, Fenix has an infinite jump, allowing the player to tap the JUMP button repeatedly to initiate an erratic flight to any point in the environment. So, while ground-based challenges are still in place, many more challenges center on making precision movements in the air and navigating environments horizontally and vertically.

Further emphasizing air-based movement is the fact that the dash move has no cooldown period, allowing players to tap the DASH button repeatedly to fly quickly in a straight line to avoid bad guys, blast past obstacles, smash through walls, and grab cookies.

Each level has two objectives: The first objective is optional, which is to grab a chocolate chip cookie, and the second objective is to reach the level exit. In the early going, grabbing the cookie is simple, and it usually appears somewhere directly between your starting position and the exit. In later levels, however, grabbing the cookie becomes very challenging, and it is often placed in a hard-to-reach area, which means that collecting it requires the player to dive in and get past the dangers, and then navigate back through them on the way out. Players must decide whether it is worth the risk to collect the cookie or just head straight for the exit.

For each level you complete, you are ranked on your number of deaths, the time it took you to complete the level, and whether or not you got the cookie. Completing these challenges allows the player to gain stars that may be spent in an in-game arcade to unlock a number of bonus challenges (more on these later), and the player can even unlock cookie recipes.

Rather than a constant escalation in difficulty from the beginning to the end – which would be difficult given the fact that there are over 150 levels in the main game – Fenix Rage instead features a variety of themed areas with separate difficulty curves. Each area has 20 levels, starting out with very easy challenges, and increasing smoothly in difficulty until the 19th level, after which the player faces off against a boss for the 20th level.

Moving into a new themed area adds one new mechanic and drops the difficulty back down, becoming almost as easy as the start of the game. As such, players may breeze through a few levels, struggle through a few more, inch their way through the last couple, and fight a boss… only to blast their way through the next set of easy levels in a few minutes. These drops in difficulty act as an opportunity for the player to learn the newly-introduced mechanics and get a bit of a breather to ease down from a series of tough levels.

Most levels are designed to be completed in less than 30 seconds (player deaths notwithstanding), with many of the easier levels being only 10-15 seconds in length, allowing players to make progress quickly while reducing repeated gameplay for their eventual failures. That said, levels must be completed in order, so players having difficulty making it past a given challenge must continue to push through, or just give up.

Danger comes in a variety of forms, beginning with stationary blocks that kill you when you touch them. These are followed by enemies that patrol back and forth in predictable patterns, and later by enemies that chase you through the level.

As mentioned, new mechanics are introduced at each area transition. At first, players must merely avoid the dangers at hand. Beginning in the second world, colored teleportation beams are introduced, adding a bit of complexity as players skip over sections of the world. Furthermore, teleportation beams may be entered from either side, creating situations where players may emerge from a beam, and then move around behind it and pass through from the other side, skipping into another area. Teleportation beams come in three different colors, and players must pay close attention to determine where they will pop out, especially given the presence of nearby enemies. Otherwise, it’s distinctly possible to lose track of where the character is on the screen, especially given that there is no transition animation.

Other challenges include sliding down hot walls to light Fenix on fire (he doesn’t seem to mind), which then allows him to break through ice blocks. However, getting hit with a blast of ice from an enemy will put out the fire, leading to challenges where Fenix must “flame on” and then dodge around a series of projectiles to reach an ice block.

Getting hit with an ice projectile in his normal form freezes Fenix and causes him to fall down, and he is able to break free by jumping or dashing. On the other hand, Fenix is invincible while frozen, leading to situations where players may opt to freeze him on purpose to fall down through a group of enemies and then break free from the ice. The ice also breaks automatically when Fenix hits the ground. Later levels introduce fire projectiles that light you up immediately instead of requiring you to slide down a wall.

The fifth world introduces level exits that can shift around the environment, always moving to the points furthest from your position, and forcing you to move away from the exit area and then quickly dash back to it. Later levels further confound your ability to leave the level by mounting ice-firing turrets over exit portals, or having exits that physically move away from you as you approach.

Several time-based challenges are mixed in throughout the adventure, including situations where Fenix is surrounded by a box of deadly objects that scrolls slowly upward, essentially creating a forced scrolling environment that the player must navigate without touching the sides. Other levels use these blocks as a physical timer, with a block sliding slowly up toward the path that leads to the exit, acting in the same way as the fuse-based levels in Bangai-O Spirits. The player must complete the level’s platforming challenges – and decide if he has time to grab the cookie – and make his way to the level exit before he finds the path blocked, which requires a level restart.

Boss fights in Fenix Rage are a bit different than in other platformers, and they focus just as much on running away as engaging the enemy. Many boss encounters feature lengthy sequences where the player must run away from the boss and/or dodge projectiles, potentially leading those projectiles to break through certain blocks. After cycling through a series of attacks, the boss only becomes vulnerable for a moment, at which point, Fenix must get up close for a quick dash-strike and then back away.

In addition to the 150+ levels in the main game, there are loads of other levels and challenges to be found. For instance, levels may be completed as normal, or played in Challenge Mode (once it is unlocked) where the player has a limited number of lives and a limited number of jumps (!) to successfully complete the level. Jumping just one extra time over the allotted amount spells instant death. A later unlockable mode called God Mode is available for players to further test their skills.

A number of levels feature a red block with a timer that counts down. Players who move quickly can reach the block before the timer reaches zero and the block disappears. Doing so transports the player to a series of abstract prototype levels, recreated from the developer’s previous Fenix Box release (see 2D CRED section below). Many of the basic elements are in place from the full game, but the detailed environments are replaced with gray walls, red blocks that will kill you, and a blue block for the level exit, while the player controls a silhouette of Fenix.

Players are aided somewhat by the presence of birds that appear in a number of the environments. These birds often indicate the recommended path of travel through the level, or at least show a safe spot where the player can move to avoid getting killed… even if only for a few seconds. Players going for perfect runs are free to mash the RESET button at any time for an instant level restart, and the level timer doesn’t start until the player moves, allowing for a moment to study the level layout and get the timing right before dashing into action.

As mentioned, earning stars allows players to unlock various arcade machines. There are nine such machines in total, each offering an arcade-style experience that emphasizes a specific gameplay element, and each tasking the player to reach a high score, which may then be shared on online leaderboards. Arcade games include a challenge where you where you fly through an open air environment while dodging projectiles and grabbing cookies tossed by an enemy, a couple of games where you try to stay alive as long as possible while collecting cookies that appear in different areas around the room, and one where you try to kick a soccer ball as any times as possible. One game has you dashing back and forth between both sides of the screen, setting yourself on fire to break through ice blocks and collect cookies, all the while attempting to dodge a Fenix-seeking enemy in the center of the room.

The game’s story is told through wordless cutscenes that show an angry Fenix going up against each of the game’s bosses. While not expressly stated in the game, the premise is that Fenix’s village was destroyed by some kind of explosion, leaving himself and a baddie named Oktarus as the only survivors, and it is up to Fenix to take him down. The game offers two different endings.

Fenix Rage was developed by a 3-man team under the label Green Lava Studios, based in San José, Costa Rica, and founded in 2010. The studio is mostly known for smaller projects, but the success of Fenix Box and the Legend of the Cookie (see below) led the studio toward the development of a full-fledged version of the game. Game Design and programming for Fenix Rage was provided by Eduardo Ramírez, with art by Diego Vásquez, and music and sound effects by José Mora.

Fenix Rage was published by Reverb Triple XP, which also published Shadowgate, Dungeon Defenders, Edge of Space, Sanctum 2, and Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians.

Fenix Rage got its start as a prototype called Fenix Box and the Legend of the Cookie, which was created in 2012 over the span of only a week, and released as a free downloadable. This game shares many of the mechanics that would go on to be used in Fenix Rage, including infinite jumps, air dashes, and lots of deadly things to avoid on the way to each level’s finish line.

The design of Fenix Box is entirely abstract, with gray walls, red objects that will kill you, and a blue end goal, with the player character appearing as a black square. The game offers 90 single-screen levels with a goal of using your precision platforming prowess and split-second timing to survive the journey to the exit. Modified versions of the levels from Fenix Box are accessible in Fenix Rage as bonus levels.

Over the years, the studio has worked on a number of work-for-hire projects, but their first original release was Agujeros in 2011. This was a free game developed over the span of two weeks. The studio used this as a basis for their first commercial project, a casual adventure-platformer entitled Dream Tale: The Golden Keys, which was published by Big Fish Games in 2012.

Green Lava Studios also developed Bonfire Trail, which received a Runner-Up Award in the 2012 Square Enix Latin American Game Contest. In addition, the studio created a gravity-based action game called Jake’s Story, as well as an adventure-platformer made for the Pan American Health Organization called Pueblo Pitanga: Enemigos Silenciosos (a.k.a. Pittsville Town: Silent Enemies), and a first person shooter called Green Lava Tour.