Rogue-Like is an oft misunderstood genre among developers. They all tend to have randomly generated maps and one life each try, but few have the turn-based top-down RPG tropes also featured in the 1980 PC game Rogue. As such, the term “Rogue-Lite” has been coined by a few, with standouts including The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky. Flinthook’s attempt combines the two with an added hook-shot for verticality, though that seems to be the extent of its originality.
Booting up the game is an amusing, charming affair, as it commences with its own Saturday Morning Cartoon introduction that sets up the basic premise. Its pixel art style is rather low-fi when compared to Tribute Games’ previous effort, Mercenary Kings, but its quality is a step above their other efforts and has more flair thanks to its space pirate theme. It also features a lot of catchy music, which given the nature of the game is likely to get stuck in your head.
From the beginning, the main character has a gun, a watch that when enabled slows time for a short period, and the hook-shot that grapples onto hoops and also strips enemy shields. The first hurdle really is getting used to the fact that aiming and moving are both mapped to the same controls. You’ll likely run into something while aiming, but this is shortly countered by the ability to fix your character into place to aim. Despite that initial struggle, Flinthook is easy to control.
The idea of each raid is to get to a boss, while plundering the other ships for loot and clues to feed the watch’s live-in monster. The standard tropes are featured here, such as perks to grab that buff or debuff, large hordes of monsters, and rooms full to the brim with hazards. When you’re ready to move on, you just hook a door and zip into the next room.
Each ship has some basic description that warns you of either potential danger, or of a certain treasure. Once you’ve seen them a few times, you’ll be able to decipher what’s ahead, but some descriptions are ambiguous at first glance. It’s a similar story for the perks you obtain, as unless you’ve memorised them, their use can only be interpreted through images. Granted this is a typical for the genre, so it’s not a big issue.
Enemies and hazards usually come in waves, signalled by a warning light. These range from stationery targets, moving targets, and things that shoot a hail of projectiles at you. As you progress, the enemies do take more hits to kill and each colour variation has extra attacks that help to keep things fresh.
Bosses in particular are tough cookies to crack, usually spelling the end of a positive run. With a handful of stages, there’s enough to sink your teeth into, though it does come across as somewhat formulaic once you’ve bought enough upgrades to your health in order to progress further.
After each death or successful raid, you’ll be rewarded with Cards for use in the Black Market to buy permanent perks, as well as booster packs to unlock the perks found in the game on a more permanent basis. You can also obtain Cards via Daily and Weekly Challenges, which act like tougher miniature versions of the main levels.
Sadly though, it is a rather paint-by-the-numbers progression system, with little beyond the generic life boosts, perk slot upgrades, and bonuses to cash/XP. There are plenty of sub-weapons to unlock, though this is the extent of the originality in weaponry beyond the standard set. I would have liked to see more interesting perks that could have changed how certain weapons worked, but the only ones that did this were for my main gun.
I also feel that Flinthook is actually hampered by the single life trope of the Rogue-Lite genre. Most Rogue-Lites are games that would be dull without the challenge, but Flinthook’s gameplay is far too interesting. It could have been fleshed out into a more involved platformer with more content, less reliant on collectables as plot devices.
It’s an odd complaint, but Flinthook really does feel like a high-calibre platformer trapped within the confines of a popular genre. It’s a blast to play and I don’t even mind just how punishing it can get at times, but the interest wains as soon as death occurred. It took me straight out of the zone when playing and when the game doesn’t have much to it beyond the gameplay, it’s a bit of a downer. The foundations are there, but really the curtains don’t match the décor.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4