Tribute Games are back once again with yet another gaming experience that unites modern gaming mechanics with that wonderful feeling of old-school nostalgia. Flinthook, the 2D roguelike action-platformer starring a Space Pirate with a grappling hook, is their latest release, and boy is it a lot of fun. You’ll find yourself zipping around a variety of different Spaceships (literally – they’re boats in Space), all whilst hunting down treasure and some of the Galaxy’s meanest bandits in the process.
Flinthook’s premise covers well-trodden territory by having you hunt down treasure and baddies by making your way across a series of ships, though it spices up the formula by having it all take place in Space. You’ll step into the shoes of Captain Flinthook as he hunts down a series of bounties to unlock the treasure he needs to buy stuff in the Black Market. That’s it – there’s no big sub-plot that’s found in the game, just good ol’ fashion bounty hunting and looting.
The unique, uh-hum, ‘hook’ of the game, is that you have a grappling hook that you can use to zip your way around each level. Each room in the randomly generated ships have a series of points that you’re able to attach your hook to and pull yourself toward with some force. It means you’ve got a lot of flexibility with your manoeuvrability, with almost any area of the map reachable with a well-aimed shot of your hook. You’re also able to momentarily slow down time, which works incredibly well with the game’s grappling mechanics; you feel incredibly slick when you narrowly avoid an enemy’s attack because you slowed down time and quickly zipped your way to safety via grappling hook.
Despite the simplistic design of the grappling hook mechanics, I couldn’t help but to have a lot of fun with it; being able to swing around levels was satisfying, with the platforming elements of the game providing plenty of different obstacles for you to overcome. You’ll come across a ton of different hazards as your venture across the ships, so you’ll need a mastery of your grappling hook if you’re going to survive all of Flinthook’s toughest challenges.
You’re also armed with a plasma gun that, like the grappling hook, you’re able to shoot in all directions by moving the analogue stick. It’s your main means of combating enemies, though you’ll also unlock sub weapons such as bombs along the way too. There’s a good variety of enemies to take down in each hostile ship that utilise all sorts of different tactics to try and cut Captain Flinthook’s journey short, though they’re easily countered the more you play the game – there’s definitely a learning process involved, but once you’ve encountered an enemy a couple of times you’ll start to learn how to best take them down. The randomised nature of the game’s levels means you’ll rarely face the same layout of rooms twice in a row though, so you’re always kept on your toes regardless of what you saw in a previous playthrough. It keeps the game challenging, which in turn makes it all the more satisfying to play.
The whole roguelike element of Flinthook is what makes it most appealing though. Permadeath games aren’t for everyone, but the fact that you’re constantly learning new things and improving Captain Flinthook as you progress through the game makes each subsequent playthrough a lot easier to handle. You level up between playthroughs, which allow you to unlock different perks and upgrades that’ll improve your chances of success. The upgrades are permanent, whilst you’re only able to use a certain amount of perks – you’ll slowly find a way to balance offensive and defensive perks though, with a good mixture of both the most effective means to take on the game’s tougher levels. It’s actually pretty satisfying seeing all the upgrades you’re able to use, especially when it makes levels that were previously challenging more of a cakewalk. As you progress through the game levels do become more and more tricky though, but again, as long as you keep upgrading you’ll find yourself improving along with them.
You’re tasked with taking on a set of different bandits, with each one requiring you to clear more ships than the last to track down. It’s all very simple and doesn’t really involve much thought; you do get to choose which ship you want to tackle each time, though there weren’t too many noticeable differences between them in-game. Despite being randomly generated, a lot of the ships follow the same sort of layout made up of tricky rooms full of hazards and enemies, hidden treasures, and shops to spend the gold you find scattered around each map. Flinthook actually deserves praise for the way it handles treasure, with almost all items in the environment destructible and containing some form of reward for the player. You progress through each room in a ship by clearing all enemies, and just keep working through until you find the big treasure chest that signifies a completed level. There are multiple routes to take so it might take awhile to find, but there’ll always be something interesting to see so you’ll never get bored.
When you finally clear enough ships to find the big nasty bad guy you’re hunting, you’ll face off against them in a boss battle. These are all thoroughly entertaining affairs that utilise all of the game’s different mechanics; you’ll be platforming, shooting, and grappling your way through battles as you try to work out each enemy’s different weakness and attack patterns. I must warn you that death means you start the whole process again though; any ships you clear won’t count towards your tally, but at least you’ll be able to reap the rewards you earned in the process.
It shouldn’t take you too long to complete Flinthook. This isn’t because the game is particularly short or anything, but rather than once you’ve unlocked a specific amount of upgrades it’s too easy to become over-powered. If you put all of your upgrades into your HP for example, you’ll begin to find Flinthook a breeze with enemy attacks barely putting a scratch on your health bar. In many ways it’s disappointing; whilst it’s satisfying to see your character improve, it’s too easy to take advantage of it to clear levels with ease. Once you’ve finished the game there is a tougher difficulty level to tackle, though you need to spend your hard-earned treasure in the game’s Black Market to unlock it. This feels like a weird design choice that actually shortened my playtime with the game – I’d have loved to have been able to take on tougher versions of each stage, but having to grind levels I’d already easily cleared in order to earn the currency to do so was a bit boring.
Visually the game looks great, with the high standard pixel art we’ve come to expect from Tribute Games ever-present. There’s plenty of intricate detail found in character designs and the environments, whilst animations are super fluid too. My only beef with the aesthetic was that there was a lack of variety in ship design. So many levels looked the same, which is disappointing for a game that tasks you to clear ships over and over again. A bit more variety in the actual art style of these ships would’ve been appreciated – seeing the same wooden innards over and over again got tiresome after a while…
Flinthook is a highly enjoyable game that I had a lot of fun playing. It’s far from perfect with its slightly repetitive environment design and lack of balance with its difficulty, but actually using the grappling hook to zip around levels whilst shooting at enemies felt satisfying. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re a fan of fast-paced action-packed platformers.
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Release Date: 18/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux