Friday, March 9

Review: Flinthook [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Roguelikes have absolutely gotten tremendous representation a mere year into the Switch’s lifespan. For me they are a terrific throwback to my days in the arcade, putting in my quarter, being challenged, and then ultimately losing just to get right back in there to try to do better the next time. Of course there’s more to it than that, as the best roguelikes additionally give you opportunities to make choices with an element of risk and reward. Throw in a method of progression outside the game to try to help eventually make the level of challenge incrementally more accessible and it gets even better. Perhaps one of my favorites of the genre from the PC space, Flinthook, has finally come over to the Switch and a big chunk of my love for the title is how much of this it absolutely gets right.

You play the role of the title character, a swashbuckling bounty hunter with a mean grappling hook, who is determined to catch a series of ne’er do wells. In order to do so you’ll need to infiltrate a consistently growing number of pirate ships in search of the bits you’ll need to help your compass locate your next target. At each phase you’ll get to choose your poison, receiving a rough idea of the scale of 3 different ships and basics about special rooms they may have. You can hope that these will mostly be positives, whether full of loot or a place to score some relics but they, but in true roguelike fashion you’ll have runs where you’ll only have rough options to choose from and will have to gut it out.

Once you’re on the ship the action is pretty varied, whether putting you up against a variety of pirates and creatures or into tricky rooms full of traps and other dangers you’ll need to do your best to avoid. You’ll be armed with your trusty gun, your hook that will help you traverse areas quickly and fluidly, a variety of secondary weapons, and an ability to temporarily slow time. These provide you with the elements for success that you’ll need, you just will need to execute. For each run you make, whether or not you are able to bring in your bounty, you’ll accumulate gold and experience that will then give you access to a variety of perks that will help you refine the game to better suit your style or compensate for your weaknesses. Whether by making enemies take less damage, extending the length of your shots, or giving yourself a healing apple as you board every ship there are perks of varying costs you’ll need to manage and make decisions on based on where your weaknesses may lie. As you gain levels and experience more perk options and opportunities to make use of more of them arise, it’s a nice system that will slowly help you get further along even as your skills improve.

As much as I love the game that isn’t to say its not without its flaws. The first has to do with difficulty and how there are times when it can be tougher for the wrong reasons. I appreciate the element of chance in roguelikes, the hope that you’ll get some good breaks and roll an easier path. When that doesn’t shake out and the way is tough I can accept that, but there are times when the gauntlet of death you face can be a bit over the top. Worse than that, though, are the “cheap” hits to your health you’ll take due to threats you simply overlook. The worst offender is floor panels that will reveal spikes after a short delay. Especially when you’re quickly swinging and moving through a larger room these can be tough to spot and aren’t so visually different from some normal metal floors that they’re easy to spot. There can be times, though, when more obvious threats are easy to miss when there are things like spikes on the platform you land on. They’re just a surprise. Aside from quibbles over how well threats can blend into the scenery I’d say that as well as the grappling mechanic works the control scheme as a whole doesn’t feel as natural as it could. I mostly say this from the experience of playing it a ton on PC, taking a long break, and then coming back to play it on Switch. I’d have thought it would come right back to me but while grappling came back right away jumping and shooting were a bit stilted until I got the hang of them once more. Perhaps it’s just me but in general I’d consider than an atypical experience so it sticks out.

As a total package for roguelike fans Flinthook is among the most satisfying and challenging I’ve played in the genre. I love the flow and the variety of enemies, rooms, and traps you’ll need to learn to contend with. Getting good in this game requires some real investment and effort, the fact that there’s a system for progression sitting on top of the individual runs is just good design. Throw in a distinctive sense of visual style and a memorable soundtrack and you’ve got a terrific game that it right at home on the Switch.

Score: 8.5

  • Great look and memorable soundtrack
  • The flow of action, particularly when using your grappling hook, is a lot of fun
  • Perks and upgrades available to you the more you play help ensure the game becomes more accessible with time
  • Some areas and elements can be cheap at times
  • As smooth as the grappling hook is the shooting mechanically isn't quite as clean
  • The perk menus are a bit dense and hard to understand at first

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