Flinthook is a lot of things. The main character is both a ghost and a pirate, plundering ships in search for treasures. Oh, and this whole scenario plays out in space. Artistically it goes for the classic pixellated video game aesthetic, but the opening cinematic and incredibly expressive animations make it feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon. It's a roguelike that isn't very roguelike at all, walking a tightrope between randomness and structure; one might say it's rogue-like or rogue-esque. It's a difficult 2D shooter, but also reaches Super Meat Boy levels of platforming finesse. While is filled with many opposing ideas, the constant thread through every one is a sense of fun.
Here's what I liked:
Playing hooky – While the playable character can walk and walljump, the most fun way to get around is to grapple. Just point at a hanging hook, hit right trigger, and you're propelled towards it. Movement is slick and simple with a great feeling of speed, easily making the pure platforming sections the most fun part of the game. That's not to say combat is anything to sneeze at; the core run-and-gun antics work best when paired with your mobility. Both the grappling hook and gun are aimed with the left stick, which also controls your movement. The controls may feel a bit sloppy at first, as you're always to running toward what you're shooting at, but this set-up really helps in more movement-heavy situations. Shortly into the game, you'll be able to stand still and freely aim by holding the left bumper, which mitigates some of the single-joystick setup's problems. The most helpful combat ability is a brief time-slowing effect, which comes in handy when you need high-speed precision.
Making progress – Despite being heavy on roguelike elements, there's still a strong notion of progress. The game revolves around hunting a series of bounties. Each bounty will require finding a few ghost stones before you can find your target, which can be found by pillaging nearby ships. Each ship is randomly generated, and although the overall setup is unpredictable each room does feel like there was some thought behind how it was put together. Every ship has a healthy mix of platforming and combat; maybe you'll get locked in a room and have to kill everything, or maybe you'll just get a grappling gauntlet over a bed of spikes. Reaching a ship's treasure room gets you a ghost stone; get enough ghost stones without dying, then it's off to fight the boss. These boss battles aren't random, but they are well-designed challenges that are a lot of fun. Defeat the boss, then it's off to the next bounty – and the process repeats again. Flinthook isn't one long randomized gauntlet where death is the end; it's a series of uniquely themed levels where death only impedes your progress to the next boss.
Perk me up – Flinthook has a progression system that sticks with you between runs. From the start, you're given a few perk cards, which can be placed into your finite loadout slots. These range from extra health to additional damage and everything in between; they're never game-changing but are enough to give you a little extra edge. Every run gives you XP and leveling up grants you a new booster pack of perks. There's also the Black Market, which sells permanent upgrades. These upgrades are extremely useful but don't come cheap; the currency used here is predominantly found at the end of ship raids. During raids you can purchase health and temporary upgrades with any gold you collect if you're lucky enough to come across a bazaar, not to mention some more mysterious ways you can get loot during your adventures. There's always something that will help push you forward, whether it be on you current attempt or your future ones.
Here's what I didn't like:
No, not that – Grappling is a ton of fun, but it's not an exacting science. In the heat of the moment, it's all too easy to grapple the wrong target – a mistake in which you could pay dearly for. The biggest issue are shields – some enemies have bubble shields which must be broken with your hook before you can attack them. If a baddie flies too close to a grapple point, there's a good chance you'll miss them and fling yourself right into danger. Similar issues can occur if you're already overlapping a hook while trying to reach another one; you might just end up grasping the one you're already on. You can slow time to get a better shot, but since the ability needs to be recharged, it can't be used as a crutch.
Flinthook is a roguelike that actually wants you to win. It's definitely a challenge, and it will throw everything it's got at you, but it makes sure you'll have a fighting chance. It's always giving you new opportunities to better yourself, both through practice and upgrades, and always has a little bit of health to offer when you when it's most needed. Once this game has its hooks in you, you'll always be coming back for more.
Score: Highly Recommended