Developed and published by Tribute Games Inc., Flinthook is an Indie Rogue-Lite about the adventures of its titular pirate. Seeking to stop a rival from unleashing an unknown evil force upon the galaxy, your white-caped character valiantly travels from ship to ship, blowing up large crews of pirates to find jewels to feed his compass and reach his final confrontation. Along the way players will encounter a multitude of enemies, both living and inanimate (in the form of traps), a plethora of mini-bosses, and several world bosses, or bounties, all the while collecting treasure and leveling up.
Controls are rather basic and straightforward, aiding the naturalness of their feel.
On mouse and keyboard, A and D handle movement while the mouse aims, allowing free targeting detached from movement. This isn’t the case on a controller, as the left joystick controls both movement and aiming. In either case, you’ll be doing a lot of both because most rooms require accurate shooting, careful platforming, or a mixture of both.
Flinthook’s running speed isn’t very fast, so to help speed things up you’re given an anchor you can use as a grappling hook, pulling you towards doors and rings hanging in the environment. Using the Hookshot is easy enough: simply point and shoot at a ring to propel Flinthook towards it. The tricky part is switching between flinging him around and killing enemies with your blaster. Both are aimed with the same reticule, so knowing what trigger you want to pull and where is a matter of life and death if you aren’t careful.
Another gadget to master is that of the Chrono-belt. This device lets you slow down time for a brief moment, helping you dodge and aim during the hectic fight. Enemies can be tricky, but most of the time they try to overwhelm you with large, slow flying projectiles that continue unobstructed across the level, and it’s their addition that makes the Chrono-belt a major asset.
If enemies aren’t shooting at you, they’re gliding, running, or charging at you with the intent to harm. Many take one or two shots, but for the stronger ones, you may require your secondary weapon. Several exist throughout the game, helping add variety to the simplicity of the basic bomb.
Levels are procedurally generated, but to help provide the player with some autonomy you’re provided choices of which ship to board. Besides the ship’s name, you’re provided some info on possible modifiers that will be active in specific areas. One ship may have a library that will give you more pages for your lore book, while another may have a labyrinth-like map offering multiple routes. While not all of the symbols or their accompanying titles are easily decoded and will take a few playthroughs to master, there are enough to ensure each ship has an interesting amount of variety added to already unpredictable layouts.
Ships are dangerous, and death is an expected outcome.
Thankfully, Flinthook can take a few hits, but there won’t be as many health items as enemies, and some of them require gold to purchase. Worry not should you find yourself running out of health, as dying is an expected outcome. Both dying and progression help level up your character, leading to more powerful perks to equip that, in turn, make future plundering easier -- or at least manageable. Each level gained unlocks another random perk you can equip provided you have slots available. Special coins can also be found scattered throughout levels and will allow you to make purchases from the black market in between bounty runs. These purchases are permanent upgrades that award you more health, speed, slow motion time, perk slots, experience, and much more.
Audibly, Flinthook boasts an exceptional 23 track chiptune soundtrack.
All composed by Patrice Bourgeault, these are full of swashbuckling overtones, and the intensity of trying to shave in the dark while barrel-racing a horse on a ship in the middle of a hurricane, Flinthook’s OST is another great example of chiptune game music done right.
Recurring themes, beats, and melodies help push an audible narrative, providing the player with a sense of cohesion among all the procedurally generated surroundings, all without standing out too much or seeming out of place. Shops sound nice and “piratey,” without slowing the tempo much, and boss fights are exciting affairs without becoming overwhelming, or so loud and busy they drown out on-screen action. A wonderful complement that doesn’t distract.
Another polished feature for Flinthook is its art style.
As soon as you boot the game, you’re greeted with a short movie that displays exactly what to expect: beautifully detailed characters with lively animations, elaborate environments that thematically fit without detracting from the foreground, and various enemy models. The crispness of the pixel art, coupled with the attention to detail in animations, makes Flinthook a joy to watch and play.
Story-wise, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Where the art is crisp and detailed, and the sound is intense and thematic, the story is vague and undefined. It isn’t described or revealed from the beginning. Instead, you unlock small snippets of it in the form of lore pages and treasure trinkets randomly scattered throughout the random encounters. The opening animation is in of itself confusing if you try to break it down: There’s a mermaid made from a constellation of seven stars, and then a planet or a moon with a lighthouse on it that splits apart and seven ghosts appear. Then an anchor falls with one of the ghosts, a passerby grabs the anchor and is then possessed, consequently dropping the bomb on a random group of pirates… Interesting, to say the least.
Regardless of how strong the story is, though, it’s clearly at the backseat in Flinthook. You can read, or you can not care and shoot pirates instead.
Is this the only shortcoming of Flinthook? No.
While controls are clever, gameplay can feel slow and lacks balance. This may be to provide balance as players need to aim their hook and shoot their pistol with the same reticle, but still, it’s a sluggish feel. Paradoxically, other parts of the game seem excessively fast. A random enemy will charge you at five times the speed of your character, and with no way to duck or quickly jump out of the way, you’ll find yourself taking damage. Other times, you’ll be getting shot at through the floor, and you can’t shoot back because you’re the only pirate with bullets that can’t shoot through wood.
Some rooms are exceptionally complicated and cluttered, full of enemies that shoot at just the right angles, while others are silly easy and feel barren. Trap rooms will either be full of heat seeking missiles, vats of acid, disappearing platforms and hooks, and spinning maces or, excessively easy to navigate.
Playing through randomness in encounters is a shame, especially when Flinthook is such a polished game. I’ll find myself playing through multiple missions without reaching the boss, because different rooms would chip away at my dwindling health. Dying to a spike floor you’ve been forced to stand on to avoid lasers and gunfire is anticlimactic and frustrating. Doing that a hundred times over with the same character and the same abilities because you haven’t unlocked anything that helps you is frustrating. And that really is the crux of the issue: no one’s playthrough/experience of Flinthook will be the same. Maybe there’s an ideal loadout that, once unlocked, can help with mitigating randomization, but until they’re unlocked you’ll suffer your way through.
Despite these problems, I can’t fault Flinthook entirely. Maybe yes, it needs rebalancing, but maybe I just suck at it. Maybe, I need more time practicing.
Yet another rogue-lite glorifying the genocide of the pirate race, Flinthook’s clever controls and mechanics bring challenging gameplay that requires practice to make perfect. Procedurally-generated levels and progression through death ensure a unique experience, reinforced by pleasing visuals and an equally accomplished soundtrack. All will find themselves motivated to keep playing, and lovers of the genre will surely appreciate the twists that successfully make Flinthook a unique experience in a saturated market.