Flinthook

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Tribute Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
In Flinthook, you take on the role of the titular character as he raids and plunders pirate airships, absconding with stacks of treasure. This is an actioner built upon a roguelike structure with procedurally arranged levels, variants that impact the environment and enemies, loads of random elements, and whole lot of gameplay to repeat upon death. Fortunately, currency and XP systems allow players to unlock new abilities and purchase upgrades that carry over from one session to the next.


Flinthook flies around the cosmos, selects pirate ships to attack, and then fires a huge anchor into them. Each mission allows the player to select from one of three ships, with the difficulty of each displayed, along with any variant conditions, such as extra tough enemies, lots of branching paths, a broken map, the presence of shops, low gravity, fog, enemy swarms, etc. These variations can have a major impact on how the player interacts with the environment; for instance, low gravity means that the player needs to pay extra attention to hazards on the ceiling and needs to react quickly upon being flung into a new room.


Flinthook has a lot of tools at his disposal, most of which are earned quickly during a short tutorial sequence. The first and most important of these tools is the Quickhook, which allows the player to grab onto grapple points in the environment – which appear in abundance – and fling himself in that direction. This is the primary means of vertical navigation, and the hook is also required to open doorways leading from one room to the next.


Next up, the player has a trusty Blasma Pistol which is used for dispatching the game’s numerous cartoony enemies, each of which has different behaviors. The pistol starts with basic pellets that can be fired in any direction, but earning XP allows the player to equip the weapon with additional modifications that allow for rapid fire, bouncing bullets, longer range, a charged shot, and a 3-way shot… and all of these upgrades are stackable.


The player has a limited number of inventory slots, which can be expanded upon by purchasing more with special green coins that are gained by completing levels (and very rarely found in chests). In addition to weapon upgrades, the player can opt to equip health extensions, XP bonuses, increased chances for a critical hit, increased movement speed, a faster Quickhook, and numerous bonus items, such as discounted rates in shops and more frequent subweapon drops.


Flinthook also has a Chrono Buckle that allows him to slow down time momentarily, which can be used for additional precision in combat or environmental navigation. There are also some very specific uses for the device, including pink lasers – which don’t kill you, but rather bounce you away – which become transparent while the device is engaged. There are also some shielded enemies that become vulnerable once the slow motion effect is engaged. By default, the effect is very short, although the player can purchase an extension.


Flinthook has a 2.5x variable jump with a slow falling speed, which supports the aerial maneuvering system allowed by zipping between grapple points. He can also wall jump up vertical surfaces, but he must do so with the proper timing, as mashing the JUMP button will not allow him to ascend; instead, he must jump, wait a moment, and then jump again.


An early upgrade allows the player to lock himself in place and aim freely in any direction, which is useful as enemies can come from all angles. The player may also uncover a number of subweapons while venturing through airships, each of which is good for a single use. These include an exploding bomb that can be thrown in an arc, which is unlocked from the start. Additional special weapon drops are available for purchase on the black market, including a freezing attack and a diving helmet that grants temporary invincibility.


To aid him in his adventure, a minimap appears in the upper right corner of the screen and is slowly filled in as the player moves from room to room through tubes in the floor, ceiling, and/or either wall. The map shows the current room, with question marks indicating unexplored adjacent rooms, and this also has the effect of indicating the directions of the exits, which are not always easy to spot amongst the background details. Once they are discovered, special rooms are marked on the map, indicating shops and treasure rooms. Some ships also feature a navigation room that displays the full contents of the map, allowing the player to plan his route forward.


The player earns money as he moves along, with some rooms containing floating coins, destructible objects dropping coins and gems, and killed enemies dropping coins as well. The biggest treasure troves come from completing special challenge areas, some of which require the player to pass through a gauntlet of environmental obstacles to reach a chest on the far end… and fight his way back out, as these chests are often placed at dead ends.


Other challenges come in the form of rooms that spawn wave after wave of enemies, locking the player inside until they are all defeated. The final room in each ship – which is usually preceded by a tough enemy encounter – offers a treasure chest that grants a lot of treasure, along with a bit of health restoration, at least one green coin, and a ghost gem that puts the player one step closer to facing the area boss.


Treasure chests contain not only coins, but also apples that restore a small amount of health, which is important as health restoratives are rare and health is not restored between levels. In fact, players must make their way through three airships before reaching the first boss, and getting killed at any point – including the boss battle – sends the player back to the start to try again. This design means that there is quite a bit of repeated gameplay upon death, but the procedurally arranged rooms and level variants prevent the player from seeing the exact same gameplay from one session to the next, and he continues to make progress as he finds green coins and earns XP.


Once the first boss is defeated, the second area requires the player to complete four airships before reaching the boss, with the difficulty increased for each, and this escalates to five harder ships before reaching the next boss. The game also offers an endless survival mode where he moves from one airship to the next, taking on increasingly difficult challenges for as long as he can survive, and earning green coins and XP along the way… but with reductions in his maximum HP as he moves from one area to the next.


Players are able to boost some of their stats, but in general they must increase their skills in order to move forward. Exploration and combat are rewarded within airships as players occasionally stumble across shops that offer health restoratives, or cards that grant stat boosts or new abilities that last as long as Flinthook stays alive. Killed enemies also stay dead, allowing players to return to previous rooms and fully explore each ship. The fact that the player loses a great deal of progress upon death is motivation to continue even when his health is low. Shops and random items can allow a struggling player to pull himself back from the brink of death… although those lacking in skill can also find a full health meter cut in half within the confines of a single challenge room.


Bosses are also quite challenging, although this is mainly due to the length of the battles rather than any advanced fighting techniques. These battles can last several minutes, with limited opportunities to cause damage, and lengthy health bars that are slowly worn down. Learning a boss’ patterns can be challenging given that the player cannot return to the boss fight immediately upon death, so it’s possible to be surprised and unprepared for an attack. Skilled players who wish to increase the challenge can purchase items in the black market that allow them to take on harder variations of each boss.


In general, traversing airships is dangerous, with some walls lined with spikes, spiked balls that can move through the environment, spinning saw blades, patrolling enemies – including invincible purple jellies – popup spike traps (that are hard to spot), burning floors, disappearing/reappearing platforms, and much more. In general, most rooms are small and can be navigated in a matter of seconds, allowing for a constant variety of bite-sized challenges as the player moves through the ship.


Enemies are nuanced, with each featuring a unique visual design and plenty of detailed stretch and squish animations that give them more character. This makes it easy to assess threats and prioritize targets, as it’s immediately clear which enemies will stand still and fire projectiles, which ones hover, and which ones will zip around the room. Very often, the player is required to take on many different enemy types simultaneously and react quickly to changes as new waves are spawned into the room.


Enemies also have a few different support items, including turrets that spawn into the room, hovering electricity emitters that temporarily prevent the player from shooting if he gets hit, blue bubble shields that must be popped with the Quickhook, and magical purple bubble shields that can only be destroyed by killing the spellcaster(s). Sometimes one or two super powerful enemies are spawned into the room, requiring players to focus their attentions and avoid powerful attacks like exploding mines and heat-seeking missiles.



2D CRED
Flinthook was developed by Tribute Games, a studio based in Montreal, Quebec. The studio previously developed Ninja Senki DX, a Gameboy Color-style ninja actioner; Wizorb, a game that crosses the block breaking of Arkanoid with RPG elements; Mercenary Kings, a Metal Slug-inspired run-and-gun actioner with RPG stats and a crafting system; and Curses ‘n Chaos, a colorful single-screen brawler.

0 comments