Giving players a sense of progress means different things in different games. Some offer linear narratives, letting you get through sections like finishing chapters in a book. Many open world games give you smaller challenges on a massive checklist; it feels rote and tired but you can see your advancement in numbers going up on a stat feed. Zelda Breath of the Wild redefines progress in an open world game by giving you a host of things to discover on your own, and by packing so many secrets and treasures in the world that you’re bound to feel a sense of advancement however brief your play session may be.

Then there’s the Rogue likes and lites. Their relatively short runs in levels that start tricky and get ever harder offer a kind of moral progression. Supposedly you end up defeated after a play, but with enough knowledge of enemies and the kind of spaces randomly presented to you that you can do better next time. In addition there’s the perks with a softer Roguelite that tilt the odds in your favour next time out, but ground gained is in reality quite small.

There’s a reason why Roguelites work well on mobile platforms, why Rogue Legacy did well as that rarity of popular Vita games, why the App Store is full of them. They’re experiential, mostly brief, and while the structure of a Roguelite does its best to deny it, mostly throwaway. If you’re strict with yourself and ask what you really achieved in a play session, that quick run has the same content as a bit of RPG grinding; in real terms very little.

Flinthook is a Roguelite. It’s a very good game that I want to like heaps, but I can’t because of its genre. Is that fair? I’ll state my case and see.

Tribute have been well known for a while now for their gorgeous art direction; as their name suggests, they pay homage to the past with sprite work, but turn the style dial up to 1000. Flinthook looks absolutely gorgeous, in its brilliantly animated space pirate goes and their monstrous lackeys, in the pirate galleons floating in the void, in the whisps of dust kicked up by thundering footsteps on their decks.

These great looking spaces are fun to move around, too. As the name suggests, you’re equipped with a grappling hook, which shoots you between grappling points and allows you to zip around the screen more quickly than just jumping. With a bullet time effect available on cool down, it’s possible to fling yourself all over the place, letting off quick shots on all and sundry as you fly. With  enemies, especially bosses, that force you to make the most of your move set, Flinthook is capable of putting together some deeply satisfying combat.

Between runs as well, there’s a persistent experience system that nets a new range of perks to choose from for specific runs and permanent upgrades to your character. If you’re willing to put in the grind, you’ll find the rules gradually weighted in your favour, while if you’re a skilled player, you’ll be rewarded with a wide range of extra toys.

It’s just that there’s a grind to put in. The biggest detriment to Tribute’s Roguelite is that it’s a Roguelite. It’s a joy to first venture into Flinthook’s spaces, and an immense frustration to die and not have done anything new, nor achieved anything of note. That’s a peculiar personal quibble I have with the genre maybe, but it hurts especially Flinthook badly.

With their multiple grapple points, rooms are set up for you to pinball around, but hedging your bets is safer.

With their multiple grapple points, rooms are set up for you to pinball around, but hedging your bets is safer.

For a game that wears its grappling hook on its sleeve, and wants badly for you to ping around the screen with reckless abandon, the structure works awfully hard to curb that. A mistimed swing will cause damage or propel you into enemy gunfire. An occupational hazard for the space bounty hunter, obviously, but one that would make a for a minor setback in a traditional platformer, yet longer lasting harm to a run here. That means that instead of relishing challenging combat rooms, they become slow affairs. Reckless abandon doesn’t pay off and instead you jump carefully and conservatively, often waiting in the corner of a room for enemies to come to you.

Had Flinthook been a straightforward platformer, its undeniable charm and zippy traversal would have made it a winner. The structure it chooses stalls its sense of motion and inhibits its sense of fun.

KAIJU VERDICT
2/4 Pops: Decent There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.
PS4 version tested.
Review code supplied by Tribute.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)