For years, I’ve looked for a game to challenge the greatness of Rogue Legacy. While Flinthook nails the gameplay and most of the roguelike mechanics, it lacks a few little touches that might have elevated it to that level. Even so, Flinthook is a fantastic take on the genre.
What Is It?
Flinthook, the eponymous playable character, boards the ships of space pirates, fights off enemy hordes with his Blasma Pistol, slows down time with his Chronobuckle, and zips around hook-filled rooms with his Quickhook, all in pursuit of the evil Gwarlock, who will imbue himself with the power of three spirits if Flinthook—the elusive fourth spirit—doesn’t get to him first.
What this looks like in practice is a cartoony 2D platformer roguelike with an amazing soundtrack and a heavy focus on combat and mobility. The Quickhook is the star. Hooks are scattered across every room that let you zoom around with satisfying ease. The controls take a minute or two to get used to, as both movement and aiming are handled with the left analog stick, but once they click, they feel natural. In frantic situations when moving and aiming and hookshotting can be a bit overwhelming, the ability to slow down time with the Chronobuckle for a second or two helps to keep things manageable.
The combat is the strongest feature of Flinthook. It’s simple and consistent, with a couple dozen enemy types that scale with difficulty, adding more health and attack types. Maybe half of those enemies are common, though, with the rest showing up more sparsely, so learning how to deal with them is a quick process. The Blasma Pistol is your only weapon, though you can alter it slightly through perks, such as adding a longer shot or a spread shot. This kind of simplicity generally isn’t seen in roguelikes—not even in so-called roguelites, like Rogue Legacy.
Why Should I Care?
If Rogue Legacy could be considered a roguelite, then Flinthook is a roguelite-lite. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but expectations should be managed accordingly. Flinthook doesn’t offer the endless variety of Binding of Isaac or the careful gameplay of Spelunky. Rather, it offers a strictly defined set of challenges and gives you a greater level of control than most roguelikes. The gameplay is good enough to support the stripping of common roguelike mechanics, but the game does suffer a bit from the structure as a whole.
It may be easiest to describe the structure by walking through a typical run. First, you build your character from a list of unlockable perks. Each perk takes up space on the perk meter, and you’re fairly limited with how many you can choose, especially at first. Generally, you can choose to boost XP earned, gold dropped, blaster damage, or total health, among other more interesting perks, like increasing blaster damage for as long as you can avoid damage or enabling a Shovel Knight-style downward thrust.
Once your character is built, you select the level. Normally this wouldn’t even be worth mentioning, but considering the roguelike elements, it’s important to know that Flinthook has four distinct levels, each broken up into several pirate ships that lead to a level boss. Each ship is a randomly generated labyrinth of individual rooms, split among combat challenges, platforming challenges, and shops. Completing these challenges always rewards you with a chest full of gold and health, so, unlike many roguelikes, it’s possible to salvage an otherwise botched run by completing a string of challenges unscathed to build your health back up to the max. The result is a much more forgiving experience than the typical roguelike, despite the fact that the combat and platforming challenges can still be quite hard, especially in the later levels.
Once you make it to the end of the string of ships and kill the boss, you can start from the next level at any time, even if you die. After completing three of these distinct levels, a fourth is unlocked that combines the previous three levels and their bosses into one endurance run with an added final boss. The first three distinct levels essentially act as training, and they allow you to build up an arsenal of permanent and temporary perks to prepare you for the endurance run. If the typical roguelike seems too punishing by throwing you into the game too quickly, then Flinthook offers a good compromise to ease you into it.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Roguelikes are built on an assumption of replayability, and Flinthook tackles this expectation in a few different ways. First and foremost, death will end a run, forcing you to start over. Death allows you to cash in XP to unlock more temporary perks, and you keep a special form of currency but lose all accumulated gold (more on that later). Like most games of this type, it has daily and weekly challenges with leaderboards. An infinite mode is unlocked fairly early that cuts your max HP the further you get. Although this mode has leaderboards (like every other mode) and rewards you with green gold that can be used to buy permanent perks, I found little reason to actually play it. The rewards are too limited to justify the time, especially when the regular levels are more satisfying to run through and fight a boss at the end.
Harder versions of each level can also be unlocked. Unfortunately, unlocking these requires spending a significant amount of green gold. In my experience, it requires intentional grinding in order to unlock all of them, which is a shame, because I was ready to move on to a more difficult challenge but was arbitrarily gated. However, there’s a hidden method to face completely new bosses within each level by accumulating curses throughout the run that slightly degrade your character’s HP or attack power. This is something like a self-inflicted hard mode, and it’s a clever way to add replayability and another way to earn green gold, if a bit obscure.
Speaking of grinding, most roguelikes offer a number of optional risks to take if you want a greater reward. In Flinthook, risk is offered through the aforementioned curses and through ship selection. Each new “tier” of a distinct level allows you to choose among a handful of different ship permutations. General difficulty and level modifiers—such as more hidden spikes, constantly lowering HP, more health shops, and much more—are displayed upfront, and the more difficult the ship, the higher the reward. This is a great idea on the surface; however, the reward generally isn’t worth the risk, due to the way gold is handled.
Gold is separated into two currencies—regular gold that can only be used in-level to buy temporary perks or health in shops, and green gold that can only be used out-of-level to buy permanent perks. There’s no incentive to accumulate more regular gold in a level other than to hope for some good perks to randomly show up in shops or to guarantee that you can buy health if you need it. If you complete a level with a lot of excess gold—meaning you were able to kill stronger enemies, complete more difficult challenges, and refrain from spending too much in a level—the only reward is a higher score on the leaderboard. From what I can tell, it has no effect on the amount of green gold you’re rewarded with at the end of the level, which seems to be doled out based on level difficulty alone.
This results in a fairly unsatisfying loop later in the game, when all you’re doing is improving your skill and seeing no real reward for it. Fortunately, improving your proficiency with the incredibly fun combat and mobility is enough of a driver to keep everything interesting throughout the regular progression of the game.
Although it won’t last hundreds of hours like Spelunky or Binding of Isaac, and while it doesn’t have the amazing gameplay loop of Rogue Legacy that made me want to keep playing that game forever, Flinthook captures enough of the genre to satisfy that itch for a couple dozen hours. And for anyone unfamiliar with roguelikes, the platformer mechanics alone are great, while the roguelike elements aren’t overbearing and act as a good introduction to the genre.