*This review was originally published back in April 2017, but got lost in the ether when we migrated websites. I’m republishing now, because the game is due to release on the Nintendo Switch next week*
Flinthook casts you as a ghost (he has a white sheet over his head so that’s what he is, okay?) bounty hunter in space. You pilot a ship whose main mode of employment is to board other ships, kill the inhabitants and their boss before making off with the treasure. There’s a bit more to it than that but since this is a retro styled game, everything you need to know about the plot could be written down on the back of a matchbox; or indeed in the sentence above.
What you care about is how it plays. The game’s hook (pun intended) is a grappling gun mapped to the right trigger which reaches out and snags the nearest gold ring giving you enough thrust to guide you around the game’s levels. Think the gold rings from Super Mario but suspended from the ceiling and you won’t be too far off. You’re quickly handed a laser gun, taught how to kill stuff with it and then chucked in to your first bounty/ ship. It’s a classic case, control-wise, of extremely easy and intuitive to learn; far more difficult to master. I was leaping from ring to ring, killing 8-bit aliens and dodging traps within five minutes. And then I hit level 2.
Well not Level 2 exactly. You see, Flinthook is a procedurally generate rogue-like. Tutorial level aside, you smash through the hull of your first target ship with a huge anchor and into a room with one or more hook-powered airlocks to transfer you to the next room. You then jump, hook and dodge your way through the ship’s random assortment of rooms (within a tightly defined set of predefined parameters) avoiding the ever-annoying wall spikes and similar traps looking for the treasure chamber. Progress is aided with the addition of your time belt. Hold down the left trigger and watch as the level goes all Max Payne. The result here lets you past some pretty basic puzzles or, more regularly, keeps your little ghost out of the way of enemy bullets.
It’s quick and pretty brutal early on but actually it’s got a really good sense of momentum. Inevitably early trials will bring swift death but, like any rogue-like worth it’s salt, you learn something with every demise. Gold coins are collected as you progress and this is treated as Flinthook’s XP system. Your haul is counted up at the end of each run. Earn enough XP and you level up. Each level gives you a pack of something to open and this contains one of a huge selection of boosters which can be equipped to aid you on your next journey. Sometimes it’ll be something as simple as an XP boost or perhaps you want to increase the range of your blaster? I’ve picked a couple of mundane examples – there are plenty of weird and wonderful ones that I won’t spoil for you here. Successfully board a ship or beat a particularly tough mid-level boss and you collect green skull tokens which can be used to add permanent upgrades to your characters stats or unlock some of the more outlandish boosters.
Randomly generated the levels may be, the developers do you want you to have a little bit of choice when it comes to what you’ll be facing on board. At the beginning of each run you get a choice of three types of level. These can be things like Platoon on board, which adds more enemies or Treasarium, which does as the name suggests and adds more gold to find! Why you would choose to make an already tough game even more difficult is a question I’m yet to find the answer for.
Both visually and audibly the game is serviceable. It’s a retro styled game so it seems poor form to criticise a game for achieving what it set out to do. The theme song from the menus is ridiculously catchy. I’m still wandering around humming it, debating whether to remove points from the review score for giving me an ear worm. (joking of course!) Sounds effects are suitably classic, everything chimes out exactly like you would expect from the NES/ SNES era of gaming.
There’s quite a lot of game for your £12 here. Certainly I think the average gamer will get 10-15 hours out of the campaign at least. Looking down the achievement list suggests many more for those who who persevere in looking for some of the game’s more obscure lore and relics. For a certain type of player, this game is positively set up for speed runs. Times and scores are recorded at level end with combos for not getting hit adding to your multiplier. Should the game find any sort of popularity I expect to see videos of ultra quick play-throughs being published for years to come, al la Spelunky and similar.