The first video game I ever owned was Sonic The Hedgehog on the SEGA Master System, so I’ve always had a special affinity towards 2D platformers. They’re typically simple, colourful and good fun to play – what more could you want from a video game?
Sonic The Hedgehog came out nearly twenty five years ago now, but fortunately the platforming genre hasn’t aged one bit. Platformers still remain one of the most enjoyable types of game to play – something that is evident in Flat Kingdom, the latest release from developers Fat Panda Games.
Flat Kingdom casts you in the role of ‘Flat’, the shape shifting hero of the… well… ‘Flat Kingdom’. Disaster has struck the Kingdom with a Fox-Thief not only stealing the magic crystals that maintain the peace of the world, but also kidnapping the King’s beloved daughter. You control Flat as he seeks out the Fox-Thief in order to save the Princess and bring peace to the Kingdom once more.
The plot does expand a bit further as you progress through the game with plenty of dialogue with multiple NPCs as well as the ever-elusive Fox-Thief, who somehow always seems to be one step ahead of you. It all plays out exactly how you’d expect it to though, but the effort made with the narrative is appreciated.
Whilst Flat Kingdom may seem like a typical platformer it does come with one unique gameplay hook – Flat is able shape-shift into a circle, a triangle and a square. Each shape is easily transformed into with the press of a button and each has their own unique abilities. The circle is able to double jump to reach high places, the triangle can run extremely fast whilst the square is strong and able to move heavy objects. Of course, they have their disadvantages too – the triangle for example can’t move in water whilst the square is incredibly slow. You’ll have to carefully switch between each of the shapes if you’re going to progress through all of the game’s levels.
Some of your abilities will require you to combine the skill sets of each shape. For example, if you double jump with the circle and quickly switch to the square you’ll unleash a super powerful ground pound that can destroy unsteady platforms from beneath you. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock a variety of new abilities that require you to use multiple shapes, including the ‘bullet’ move that utilises the speed of the triangle and strength of the square to send you smashing through the game’s environment.
In true Metroidvania style, the new abilities you unlock will allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. It certainly gives you an incentive to replay some of the game’s earlier levels, even if the reward usually only consists of the gold you need to upgrade your maximum health.
Whilst using each of the shape’s abilities to work through the game is cool, the combat is a little unfulfilling. It works in a similar way to ‘rock, paper, scissors’, except with shapes – circle beats square, square beats triangle and triangle beats circle. Each enemy you encounter is based around a shape, so you’d take down a square shaped charging deer with your circle shape, whilst a circular piranha would be taken out with your triangle shape.
Whilst the concept works, it’s a little boring in motion. There’s no skill involved – you simply switch to the corresponding shape and as soon as you make contact with the enemy they’re instantly defeated. It would’ve been better if you still had to actually attack them, be it by jumping on them or targeting a weak spot. Just simply making contact with them is a little too simple, making combat feel a little tacked on and boring.
Fortunately level design itself is great, offering levels that are packed with puzzles and challenging platforming sections. The game sends you across multiple environments including forests bustling with wildlife, the sunken city of ‘Flatlantis’ (groan – a water level) and a volcanic death trap. Don’t be fooled by Flat Kingdom’s charming appearance though – the game is no pushover! Some sections of the game are really tough to play through and with checkpoints few and far between there’ll be times when you’ll lose a whole lot of progress from one simple death. To the game’s credit though, the difficulty never feels unfair. It’s all about the player’s ability to react and think quickly, a skill that will improve the further you progress.
Flat Kingdom’s boss encounters can be pretty tricky too, with all sorts of monstrosities trying to take you down. You’ll face the likes of giant whales, humongous spiders, mutated plant monsters – there’s certainly a creative selection of bosses for you to conquer. Each has their own specific attacks that you’ll have to carefully evade, all whilst looking for the right moment to strike yourself. Attacking isn’t a simple process though, with each boss having a particular weakness that you’ll have to identify and exploit. Boss battles are entertaining encounters though and make up for the otherwise lackluster combat featured in the game.
Graphically Flat Kingdom looks superb, with brightly colour paper craft styled visuals making up the game’s world. You can see a lot of effort has gone into making a world based around this paper craft style, with environments seemingly made out of shapes cut from paper – the way everything pops out around you looks impressive too. No detail has been spared with the environments either, with parallax backgrounds that move with you as well as flora and fauna that makes each level feel inhabited as opposed to just being another level in a game.
I hadn’t heard much about Flat Kingdom before playing it, but I’m glad I didn’t let it slip under the radar – it’s a great platformer that offers not only a great gameplay hook but a fantastic, well designed world to explore. The combat is boring, but it’s certainly made up for with fantastic platforming and enjoyable puzzles that keep you interested from start to finish. Just don’t expect an easy ride – Flat Kingdom will certainly push you to your limits at times, but thankfully the pay off is worth it.
– Well designed levels with a good blend of puzzles and platforming
– Great colourful visuals
– Creative boss battles that offer a fair amount of challenge
– Combat is boring, offering no real challenge
Developer: Fat Panda Games (www.fatpanda.tv)
Publisher: Games Starter (www.gamesstarter.com)
Release Date: 07/04/2016
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux