Tribute Games’ Flinthook is one of those titles that seems to remind you of a thousand other games, yet remains totally individual all at the same time. When it landed in my inbox, I have to admit, I was intrigued.
Flinthook is an action-platformer with a Roguelike quality. I’m going to level with you. I hate the term Roguelike. What does it even mean? It’s popped up like some playground fad over the last few years. Roguelike games are characterised by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated game levels. This is exactly what Flinthook gives you. A game has to have a gimmick, too though, right? What does Flinthook offer in the way of a gameplay hook, if you’ll pardon the pun?
Well, the game features some rather nifty grappling hook gameplay, allowing your character to attach him (or her) self to various rings and points around the dungoen rooms. The grapple isn’t just used for swinging though. You will face some enemies who are protected by a bubble-type shield. You can use the grapple to pop that, but I’m getting ahead of myself a little here.
So, according to the ‘Roguelike’ description, Flinthook should be packing some dungeons. It is, but it isn’t as well. You pilot a small ship, armed with a bigger version of your grappling hook. This targets and harpoons bigger space-going ships for you to explore and loot. These then form the rooms that make up the dungeon-like crawl you’ll experience. The ultimate goal is to collect enough pieces of loot in the form of gems and gold to be able to upgrade, but more importantly, enough Ghost Gems to feed to Slimey, your little pet compass. Feed Slimey enough of these gems and he’ll be able to point the way for Flinthook to his next destination. Sounds easy, right?
Let’s backtrack a little. The premise of the game is to defeat a mysteriously malevolent treasure hunter, who has hatched a sinister plan to release an ancient evil on the cosmos.You are the universe’s last, best hope. Slimey the compass is necessary in order to find the miscreant and stop him. So, you can see the importance of the Ghost Gems. You will only get one Ghost Gem per ship you plunder, usually in one of the last rooms you will explore. Grab that gem and hot-foot it out of there and on to the next. Only it’s not quite that simple.
The levels are all procedurally generated, which means that no two ships should have the same layout. This I found true, although some did have repeated rooms in them and if you hit a dead-end there can be some tedious back-tracking involved. For the first target, you need three Ghost Gems, which means looting three separate ships, filled with cartoon enemies , until you find the main treasure chest. This is much easier said than done. You only have one life to do this feat, and a certain amount of hit points to get this finished. That, again, is all well and good, but your health isn’t replenished after completing a ship-raid, so whatever you ended the last sorties with, is all you’ve got for the next one. Unless you find a shop on that next ship of course. This meant that, for me at least, the first two ship raids were completed OK, but when it came to the last one, I simply had no energy left to complete it. I died and had to start the sequence of three all over again.
This is immensely frustrating, even if the game itself is easy to pick up and fun to play. The difficulty ramp goes from a breeze to a raging tornado in no seconds flat and the loss of the Gems you collect is a blow. There is an upside though. The more treasure you collect, the more chance there is of being able to upgrade your grapple, Blasma pistol or Time-slowing powers on the Black Market, which opens to you after you achieve a specific level. It’s this glimmer of hope that keeps you coming back to play the game, however. It allows you to get tantalisingly close to completing that first gem set, only to dash your hopes in the asteroid belt of failure.
You also have a perk-card system to enhance some of your attributes. Among others you can increase your health, increase your luck, grab a shield, slow down enemy shots and many, many more. These all have a ‘cost’ on a particular bar on the perks screen. You can only load up to the maximum value perk slots you have available, which can limit you on the number you can pick, so choosing wisely is an obvious and over-used statement here.
Apart from the grapple and your Blasma pistol, your feisty Captain can also pick up and carry a keg that explodes and can slow time down to get through seemingly impentrable barriers. These are all very handy when trying to battle your way through the ships hold and towards your ultimate treasure.
The enemies you’ll face are varied in size, accuracy and damage dealt, with some being imperveous to your attempts at killing them. They are incredibly well drawn, with more than a touch of the 16-bit era about them. Indeed, the whole game has that slightly blocky charm about it that probably would’ve seen me addicted to it for months back in the late 1990s.
There’s a speed about Flinthook’s gameplay which sets it slightly apart from other Roguelike’s on the market. The level designs are such that if you catch them just right, you’ll skip along at a rate of knots. It can be an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience, but massively frustrating in equal measure. Despite it’s flaws in the progress department, I kept going back to Flinthook though.
Overall, Flinthook is a smashing little Roguelike puzzle-platformer. It’s graphically polished and the level designs are on point to keep you on your game-playing toes. Even from an audio standpoint, the game isn’t lacking, with a decent chip-tune soundtrack and good overall effects. If you can persevere and battle your way past that initial difficulty-curve, you have a solid title which promises entertainment for hours.