Flywrench often feels a bit like a zen koan: a game that is both punishing and forgiving, overstimulating and patient; a game where you die constantly, yet never really stop playing. Ostensibly, you are are trying to acrobatically navigate a spaceship through a series of deadly barriers by changing your color to match them. Throughout the course of over 170 levels, you are told, you will ride a carrier wave from the outskirts of Pluto into the sun.
The first thing most people say about Flywrench is that it's very difficult; they're not wrong. It's probably fair to call it punishing; some people might describe it as "old-school hard," hearkening back to the days of yore when games would let your bang your skull against the wall until it cracked.
But Flywrench is the good kind of punishing, the kind that wants to make you better. There's virtually no pause between the moment when you go careening into a barrier and smear the wreckage of your ship across the sky, and the moment when start over at the beginning of the level. The moment you fall, you are already standing back on your feet; time to try again.
Created by Messhof, the developer of the minimalist fencing game Nidhogg, Flywrench packs a similarly intense experience into some very simple graphics. Although you're supposed to be a spaceship, you look more like a flat white bar that bends in the middle to propel itself upwards; I kept imagining it as a butterfly or a flying book. Despite taking place in space, gravity is constantly pulling you down, and you have to time your bursts of speed so that you climb and fall through the color-coded barriers at exactly the right moment.
The lack of delay between death and rebirth—and the shortness of the levels—not only helps to reduce your frustration, but makes your mistakes more obvious. It's easy to get impetuous, particularly since the game is so kinetic and exciting, but after you die fifteen times in a minute doing the same foolish thing, chances are you'll consider slowing down, and perhaps letting your little butterfly ship tread water for a second before you throw yourself once more into the breach.
You will fail often—and you need to, because that's how you acquire the instincts and muscle memory you need to survive. Early on in the game, I hit a wall (literally) in one level for about ten minutes straight. But as I kept trying to twitch my way past the color-coded obstacles, something eventually clicked, and suddenly I sailed to the end so easily that it was hard to remember why it had been difficult. It felt like what I had meant to do all along, I just hadn't known how until that moment.
Flywrench is available on Steam for Mac and Windows users.