STAFF REVIEW of Flinthook (Xbox One)

Friday, May 26, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Flinthook Box art When a game touts itself as a roguelike, I tend to go in cautiously because I don’t generally have as much time as I would like to play games, so dying repeatedly isn’t something that generally interests me, which is usually what happens in roguelike titles. Certain games though find a way to make the constant deaths not as frustrating as they usually are, usually due to a great mechanic or some form of progression so that you don’t feel like you’re just wasting time. Developers Tribute Games has found a way to do this with their title, Flinthook, which, excuse the pun, has me hooked. What’s not to love? You play as a pirate who can zip around with a hookshot, use slow motion powers and shoot enemies in 360 degrees. Gameplay is very fast paced that revolves around action and looting, complete with RPG elements to keep things interesting. You’re going to die a lot, and that’s simply part of the experience, but you still progress in certain ways, so all is not lost.

It seems the galaxy is overrun with pirates and generally despicable aliens, all of whom want to become rich, but there’s an overarching evil looming, threatening life as we know it. Cue our hero Flinthook, tiny in stature but the toughest and most nimble pirate there is who is attempting to save the galaxy on his own. There’s a little more to the story, but not by much, and that doesn’t matter, as the gameplay is what will keep you hooked, coming back for more even after dying numerous times.

From the first few moments of gameplay you’ll be taught how you use your trusty hook to zip around the stages, all of which are procedurally generated and laid out in a metroidvania style map. You’re invading other pirate ships in search of coins, treasure and secrets, hoping to find clues of where the next bandit is located in the galaxy. Don’t fret when you start dying quite often early on, as things will naturally feel almost too fast and frantic. Even after quite a few hours of gameplay, I still find myself panicking at the chaotic nature of some of the levels. Stick with it though, as it becomes much better once you start saving up for a few upgrades and perks, making each run slightly easier, until it becomes second nature.

Your general goal of each stage is to find the end of the ship, which is randomly generated, and loot the huge treasure chest. Doing so will net you a special stone, and a certain amount of these stones will finally reveal to you the boss ship and let you attempt to defeat him. So for example, the first boss, called a bounty, requires 3 of these stones for your compass (which is adorable) to locate where the boss is hiding in the galaxy, allowing you to attempt to challenge him. Doing so clears the bounty, earns you massive gold and experience, and moves onto the next bounty. The trick is that you need to clear 3 of the levels in a row without dying for the stones to reveal the boss level, and that’s where a little of the grinding will come into play.

Because you’ll obviously fail often in the beginning, you’ll feel like having to start at the beginning of the 3 stage wave is frustrating, but you keep all the gold and experience you’ve earned to that point. So even though you’re failing, you’re progressing, which is its saving grace. This allows you to try again, only slightly better stat wise this time around. It’s addicting, as you can tell each attempt that it’s slightly easier than before.

Each ship is a maze of navigation, complete with secrets and traps all over the place. Even only a handful of bosses into the game, the challenge begins to spike pretty harshly as you progress. Traps become more unfair, enemies become more infuriating, and I keep going back for more. Most ships are roughly 50/50 when it comes to platforming exploration and combat. Many rooms will lock, preventing you from leaving until every enemy is defeated. For those really wanting a challenge, there are even daily and weekly challenges for those wanting to master the game and have more bragging rights.

Your hook is your bread and butter at traversing each ship’s rooms. Every room has specific rings hanging that you can hook onto, propelling yourself in that direction. It takes a lot of getting used to, but once you’re able to move around the stages without having to think about it, avoiding enemies and their fire, it feels smooth and natural when it all comes together, you just have to make it over the steep learning curve to get there. Flinthook can also wall jump, though I found this skill not as useful aside from a handful of situations, though to be fair, levels are randomly generated, so maybe I just got lucky.

You also have a pistol, your main way of destroying your enemies. This can be fired in any direction, but is also mapped to the left stick that is also your movement, so it can become quite tricky to be accurate. At first it feels dumb that movement and aiming is on the same stick, but there’s not many times you want to be standing still, or even standing at all, especially in the later levels. You’ll need to constantly be moving, and quickly, but that’s where the slowmo ability comes into play.

Using this ability you’ll be able to briefly slow down time, allowing you a few extra moments to either maneuver a certain way, line up a better shot, or phase through some lasers unharmed. It’s an incredibly useful ability, one that even I forget to use as often as I should, but it can only be used in very short bursts, so you can’t rely on it as a crutch too often.

Whenever you die or complete a bounty, you’re able to cash in your earned experience and gold for upgrades. You have a certain amount of perk slots that you can fill with either more health, better combat abilities, earning more experience or more unique abilities. But these slots fill out quickly, so you’ll need to purchase more to equip numerous ones however you wish, opening up the RPG elements and building your pirate to cater to your playstyle. So even though you’ll be dying a lot, especially early on, you’re able to upgrade often which makes each subsequent playthrough that much easier.

Being persistent pays off in Flinthook, as you’ll slowly become accustomed to the frantic gameplay, becoming better and getting further each time you upgrade and retry. Don’t let the opening hour fool you with the many deaths, as the more time you put into Flinthook, the more it rewards you for sticking with it. Even though the difficulty eventually spikes quite significantly, getting that much closer and closer to a boss stage is addictive, as is unlocking a new perk or ability to test out.

The 2D pixel art is brilliant, as it’s vibrant, has a ton of detail, and looks incredibly sharp and colorful, complete with fantastic animations and smoothness of gameplay. The soundtrack is also very well done, with fitting tunes that suit the retro vibe and set a tonality. for the gs no doubt about it, Flinthook is a highly challenging 2D roguelike that wants to keep you playing, and even though it’s a steep challenge, there’s just enough wiggle room of fairness that hooks you, wanting you to come back and give it one more try.

Sure you’re going to swear at the bubbled enemies that need to be hooked before they can be attacked, and you’ll die to an ‘unfair’ trap a hundred times, but you learn your lessons each time, improving as you progress. With tons of hidden collectibles and procedurally generated levels, there’s a huge amount of replayabiilty within, even if you do master your hook and become the best pirate in the whole galaxy. For a small indie title, I came away impressed, not with just the quality of each aspect of Flinthook, but that in the end, it was simply fun to play, even with its frustrations.

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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