IMPRESSIONS: Flinthook on Switch

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

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If you follow my ramblings here at oprainfall, you’ve probably noticed I’m a fan of retro and indie. So of course I’m also a big fan of the fine folks at Tribute Games. Their artistry and attention to detail is really impressive, and I have personally bought most of their games with my own money, plus one that I got as a review copy. And though all of their games definitely have a bit of a sadistic streak to them, I am often beguiled and enamored by these fine tributes to retro gaming. With the upcoming release of their latest title, Panzer Paladin, I thought it’d be a good idea to finally try my copy of Flinthook. Was this adorable space pirate just the thing the doctor ordered to sate my appetite?

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First things first, Flinthook’s story is told visually. There’s no written dialogue describing the plot whatsoever. All you know is you’re using your Goo Compass to hunt for bounties that have something you want. That said, you’ll come across an assortment of quirky characters that do trade tales with you, and you’ll also find relics and lore that provide a bit of context. What this means is I wasn’t certain about a few things in the game, such as the nature of the titular captain Flinthook. At first he just appears to be wearing a white hood, but whenever you lose, an animation plays with his spirit detaching from his body, then reattaching. As such, I think of Flinthook as a space ghost (no, not that one), and will maintain this belief until the game convinces me otherwise.

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Despite most of the tale being told visually, you can still infer a lot about the game. That’s because the art everywhere in the game is bursting at the seams with personality, from the lowliest scalawag to the meanest buccaneer. You can tell when Flinthook himself is determined, frustrated or even downcast just by looking at his face. I can’t say nice enough things about the aesthetics in the game. Tribute always has amazing art, but this might be their best yet. It’s bubbly, full of complex details, and just jubilant to look at. Which is a good thing, because Flinthook is also ridiculously hard.

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Now, I tout myself as a platformer pro. And if you talked with any of my circle of gamer friends, they’d probably back that assertion up. But Flinthook isn’t just a platformer, it’s a rogue platformer. You never know what each area is gonna throw at you, you just know it’s gonna hurt. There’s hazards aplenty here, from swinging mace balls to spike traps to laser lattices and much more besides. Most areas also have lots of moving parts, like conveyor belts or disappearing platforms. You’ll often be dealing with one or more hazards in each area, not to mention enemies. There’s a great diversity of space pirates to contend with, from enraged starfish to bomb spewing parrots to gun-slinging dastards. One thing that makes all of them a challenge is that almost every enemy can shoot through surfaces you can’t. Not to mention they’re often protected by shimmering bubbles or red barriers that can only be dispelled temporarily by your handy Chrono Belt. Fun fact, any game where slowing down time isn’t that much of a game changer is a hard game. But I digress. The true challenge in Flinthook isn’t the hazards or the enemies, but navigating around them. Which brings us to the “hook” part of Flinthook.

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I really love the hook mechanic, at least in theory. Wherever you see a golden ring, Flinthook can use his mobile Quickhook (a tiny anchor) to grapple from it. You can’t hang from them, but you can maneuver all around by launching yourself from the right angle. The trouble is, the game is built around this mechanic, which means you’ll often have very little floor to speak of. Instead, you’ll have wide open spaces covered in spikes or lava, and have to use those nifty hooks to swing safely through them. Keep in mind, each mission tends to be more challenging than the one before it, and often the early areas aren’t that easy. I’m not trying to complain overmuch, but I do want fans of platformers to realize Flinthook is not playing around. It can and will kill you repeatedly. However, you do have one thing at your disposal to help even the odds – upgrades.

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As you go on raids to hunt for treasure and find your next bounty, you’ll gain experience. As your level rises, instead of increased stats, you’ll unlock more upgrades at the Black Market. There’s a wide range you can buy, from extending your base health to new subweapons and more besides. You’ll also come across perks as you play, little cards that provide big benefits. Some examples are dealing more critical damage or making you immune to electric shock. The amount you can equip at one time is determined by the size of your meter, which itself can also be extended at the Black Market. Though none of these perks is gonna make the game easy, they do make it more fair. I had a lot of trouble with the third boss in the game, a gelatinous space baron. To deal with him, I equipped perks that increased the amount of damage I dealt to bosses, as well as extending the duration of my Chrono Belt’s slowdown, letting me deal with the lack of floor in his arena. Even then, I had to try multiple times to beat the good Baron, and even then, I did so with just a mere fraction of my health left. But there’s a special thrill you’ll get whenever you beat one of the game’s hardcore bosses. It’s just enough of a rush to keep me coming back for just one more try. That said, I’m nowhere near ready to take on the final boss yet or the harder versions of previously beaten bosses I unlocked.

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It suddenly occurs to me that I’ve neglected to talk about the sound design in Flinthook. If I wasn’t already impressed by the artistry here, I was definitely impressed by the music. I don’t normally get that excited by music in games. I’m usually fine so long as it doesn’t get in the way or ruin the mood. Here though, the music is completely outstanding. It’s very memorable and catchy, while being somewhat evocative of classics such as Mega Man. But that’s not to say it’s derivative, it really isn’t. There’s a jaunty pirate energy in every tune, and it really makes the experience that much more unique. I’m really, really impressed by it, and it’s another reason I find Flinthook so hard to put down, despite how soul crushing it can be.

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I will say, much as I’ve grown to accept the difficulty in this game, there’s one thing I’m sad about. When I first saw the images from Flinthook, I assumed it was a Metroidvania. Mostly cause there’s a minimap that populates as you explore areas. While I don’t necessarily still want this game to be from that genre, I do hope Tribute eventually makes a proper one. Cause Flinthook is great how it is, but it shows that the developers have the chops to make a really amazing Metroidvania one day, if they so choose. Unless Panzer Paladin is secretly from that genre, but I suppose that answer will reveal itself soon enough.

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Now I can forgive a lot, but the following issues made my time with Flinthook less pleasant. Though I’ve grown accustomed to all the hazards, I’m less forgiving of the fact many of them are practically invisible til you’re right on top of them. A good example are the spike traps. Sometimes you’ll see a thin gray banner that tells you where they are, but more often you’ll be on what you assume is safe ground, hear a click, and get skewered. I also wasn’t a fan of the inconsistency of combat rooms. Generally you enter one, get locked in, the klaxon sounds and then foes appear. Sometimes, however, the foes will be there before the klaxon sounds, and will get in a cheap shot or two before you realize it. Also, I hate the bubble wizards. They just sit in corners of rooms mumbling eldritch spells that shield all the other foes with bubbles. You have to kill the wizards to take away those bubble shields, and that can be a hell of a thing in cramped quarters. Oh and the purple ghosts can also go to hell. The fact you can’t damage them at all, and they just float around hurting you is a pain. Other than these issues, I can pretty much forgive everything else. But these make bad situations overwhelming.

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All in all, I am glad I finally found the time to play Flinthook. Sure it’s incredibly difficult, but it’s also really engaging and hard to put down. And yes, I know rogue games often are super difficult, but I just feel the difficulty here is tuned a little too high in favor of your foes. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but you should expect to die a few dozen times as you play. It’s just important to know you’ll eventually unlock things that make the game marginally easier. If nothing else, you’ll get great replay value out of the game, with optional challenges, infinite raid mode and lots of main game craziness. I just hope that Panzer Paladin manages to strike a slightly more balanced tone by the time it releases.

Flinthook | Raid Complete

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.