Being Trapped in Hell with Anime Is A Good Thing Actually: Hands-on with Freaked Fleapit
When traveling through the BitSummit showroom floor, you are often overwhelmed at the number of ads — sometimes studios and publishers both come to BitSummit, and have separate booths, or ads will be placed near the entrance but far away from the actual booth itself. So when I saw an ad for Freaked Fleapit at the entrance, showing a very scantily-dressed purple-haired anime woman followed by a rhythm game using sprites, I didn’t know what to expect.
You see, BitSummit has a good amount of dating sims from Japanese developers, but the words Freaked Fleapit are not something you would typically hear in a Japanese game, so I knew it had to be from a foreign developer. For those who don’t know, a “fleapit” in English typically refers to a dilapidated movie theater, and is a term that mostly died out decades ago. My curiosity overwhelming me, I went on a hunt — eventually finding the game tucked away in the center-right of the showroom.
So, remember Crypt of the Necrodancer? One of the best soundtracks in games, and honestly, just a fantastic rhythm game to boot. The folks at developer Finch Bird and publisher CRITICAL REFLEX think so as well, because Freaked Fleapit takes plenty of excellent notes and marries them to a colorful cast of dating sim characters. The game starts the player off as Alex, a down-on-his-luck everyman who accidentally wound up in what appears to be Purgatory. His first encounter with the Fleapit cast is with Ruby, a purple-haired psycho that acts like she snorted six cans of Red Bull and harasses you into visiting her at the elevator of the cinema.
You’re introduced to two other main characters — Bellboy, who appears to be the greeter of the cinema and dresses like a 1950s paperboy (possibly British?); and Fasaria, who appears to be a consort of Death but seems unhappy with her job (and is a Real Gamer™.) Before you can really interact with any of them, however, Ruby grabs you, forces a tie around your neck, and staples it to the elevator frame before kicking you down several hundred floors. Welcome to Hell, buddy.
The gameplay of Freaked Fleapit is, like mentioned above, Crypt of the Necrodancer — you must move in rhythm with the beat, and attacking on beat damages enemies. However, if you miss a beat, you miss the enemy or do reduced damage. The soundtrack is absolutely banging — heavy, multi-layered synth and bass reverberated through me while a slime beat me within an inch of my life.
While traveling through the proc-genned level, often I would have to backtrack — thankfully a handy tool allowed me to do so quickly. Remember the necktie Ruby stapled to the elevator? Well, the necktie is magical, talks to you, and can stretch or retract on command. Simply hitting the retract button drags Alex back to the nearest door, and shoves it wide open if necessary to continue backtracking to the beginning of the level. I also found a few upgrades from time to time, which came in sets of three and offered choices — bonus damage, healing on hit, and other usual roguelike fare.
Eventually I made my way to the floor boss, which was a giant musical slime named Chunky. The fight actually lasted a good amount of time, and Chunky gained new abilities every time I knocked a third of its HP off. For a first boss, the design was stellar and eased me into what the combat will be like, while still challenging me to move and attack with the rhythm.
Once cleared, Ruby drags you up by the necktie and you’re introduced to the other half of Freaked Fleapit — the dating sim part. You can interact with any of the ladies in the cinema and complete quests with them, unlocking new CGs and learning more about them as a character — and you’re introduced to two new characters as well: Keyla, a very sleepy furry, and Sister June, a fallen angel that the team has referred to as the “mommy” of the gang. I can hear the barking of certain readers already.
While I had to end my time with the demo there (a line was forming behind me), I chose to start getting to know Fasaria more, who tasked me with finding her lost handheld gaming device — culminating in her and I going a few rounds in some fictional fighting game while she taunts my lack of Gamer Skill™.
After my time was up, I was able to speak with Rita Lebedeva, founder of CRITICAL REFLEX, about the game’s development, some ideas the team are working on, and more. “The developers are relatively new to the world of game dev — the artists, both for the CG art and the pixel art, are just really good at drawing, and came together to help build this game out.” When asked about meta-progression, she mentioned that “while we have the roguelite progression at various parts of a level, we’re still tinkering with the idea of meta-progression,” something like what Hades does, I would assume.
The game will feature English voice acting as well, with a confirmed role already: LilyPichu, famous content creator, will voice one of the Fleapit characters — and according to Lebedeva, was “something she auditioned for on her own” without the team’s request. Other VAs are planned, but unfortunately Lebedeva was unable to share anything more.
While every game at BitSummit was an absolute blast, I have to grant Freaked Fleapit my “best in show” award — this is a game I am absolutely beside myself waiting for, and enjoyed my time with immensely. Freaked Fleapit has no confirmed release date, but you can wishlist it on Steam now.