Flinthook is almost – almost – a brilliant game. Depending your tastes, it can be as though the planets have aligned and created this fantastic combination of rogue-like design and fast, frenetic action.
But that’s no surprise, because developer Tribute Games has previous, having developed Mercenary Kings for PS4, which you may recall was a PlayStation Plus game we all liked a fair bit, but not enough to sing from the rooftops about it.
The trouble with Mercenary Kings was that it played remarkably well, but was let down by what felt like a misunderstanding of difficulty. Many developers are out there chasing the phenomenon that is “hard games” brought back into popularity thanks to the likes of Dark Souls and From Software.
Let’s get this straight: the moment to moment play of Flinthook is exciting, exhilarating even. As you whip around room after room with your grapple hook as though you’re spider-man, smashing enemies to pieces, avoiding obstacles, and grabbing treasure, you’d be forgiven for thinking this might be your dream game.
Indeed, there are shops that let you increase the amount of skills you can equip, thus increasing your health, changing your fire speed, upping your XP gained after each ruch. This is a game that feels very familiar to Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games. There’s a feeling that even if you die a lot, no run is pointless.
The skill ceiling is just about right in that you will gradually grow more and more confident, getting more XP per run, and understanding how best to get around each of the space-pirate themed rooms that encase you.
But it’s a fast paced game, and you’ll need to use the slow-motion ability to get a hold on things from time to time. Bullets will fly everywhere, and although there must have been a temptation to put the aiming of your gun on the right stick, keeping it on the left along with your movement means that you’re kept on your toes at all times.
It’s only after you reach the first boss that you realise the problem Flinkhook has: it would be better as a structured game, without the rogue-like leanings.
See, when you reach a boss, it’ll be hard, and you’ll almost certainly fail and die on the first attempt. But to get to the boss again, you have to go through the entire run again. There isn’t a shortcut back to the boss no matter how many times you’ve seen it. This is a major issue because when it’s taking 20 minutes to reach the boss, and then 5 minutes trying and failing to defeat it, you’re not learning at a quick enough pace to understand exactly how to topple it.
The reason for this is that after each rogue-like level you gain a gem to feed your space compass. Three of these will make your compass reveal the “location” of the boss, and you can then attack it. There’s no getting around this, and it grows with each new level. So after finally defeating the boss you’ll gain access to the next level, which requires four gems to reveal the boss, and so on.
All of this means you’re unable to learn without repeat play, and this means frustration when you’re just going through the motions of levels you’ve played 20 times before.
It’s got a fantastic art style, and it sounds great, and in all honesty, it is a game I’d recommend. But it mistakes difficult for frustration. The rewards soon ebb away and you’re just hammering your head against an increasingly thick brick wall. The true hardcore of you will relish the aggressively high repetition, and while I dig what it’s doing, it just falls slightly at the final hurdle.
A good game, then, but one that could have been incredible. At £10.99 it’s something you’ll get an easy five hours out of, but one you’ll likely not complete. You’ll respect it, and even love it at times, but it could have been so much more.