Just about a year ago, I wrote my review of Enter the Gungeon and praised it for living up to my lofty convention expectations. I had assumed that this would be a rare occurrence, but the endless growth of the roguelike genre continues to trump those assumptions and I couldn't be happier about it. I come to you today with Flinthook, a procedural action platformer that wowed me at PAX and might have come out even better than Gungeon did at its release. Tribute Games have combined the best elements of Rogue Legacy with fast moving arcade shooter gameplay, a unique pirate theme, and a literal hook that will ensnare all your free time.
Flinthook casts you as a ghostly pirate equipped with a chronobelt for slowing down time, an energy pistol to ward off his foes and a penchant for raiding other vessels in search of relics and treasure. Thankfully, all these vessels are laid out in familiar roguelike map layouts, with your standard array of shield tokens, keys, locked doors, treasure rooms, and boss encounters. What Flinthook does extremely well is making runs matter in the long haul and ensuring that players don't feel as if they've wasted their time when they do inevitably die. Each level consists of several runs before a major boss fight, and defeating these bosses will get you to the next set of challenges. However, as you complete runs, you gain experience and currencies that you can use to expand your available character options, making your more powerful as you get more comfortable with your platforming abilities. So, even if you get stalled in one area for a long while, you're still seeing new things pop up, which is vital to keeping up a roguelike's momentum.
I have a feeling that you won't mind keeping pace with the game since every new run will give you another opportunity to look at Flinthook's gorgeous presentation. Tribute Games has always produced amazing pixel art in a variety of styles, but this is their best work yet. The backgrounds are filled with moving details, each character's faces are expressive, and your ghostly protagonist moves fluidly throughout each environment. No matter if you are in a puzzle room zipping around spikes and traps or a battle room with enemies warping in, everything is a pleasure to look at. Of course, all this goes hand in hand with the game's controls, which makes the combination of grappling hooks and shooting action feel effortless your first time out. I was initially taken aback that the game didn't use the right stick at all and instead had you aim and move with the same action, but my worries quickly subsided as I got used to the unique control scheme.
Bringing it back to character customization, there is a surprisingly deep perks system in place here. Much like a shooter loadout, you start out with a certain set of slots available and abilities that fit into those slots. These range from health boosts and speed upgrades all the way to altering the type of bullets that fire from your energy pistol and your overall firepower. Every time you level up, you gain booster packs that give you new perks to choose from, including repeat perks if you want to double up and focus on one area of your character. Beating bosses will get you gems you can trade in at the black market for more permanent abilities, including expanding your available perk slots, boosting the rate of your experience gain, and expanding the amount of gold you get at the end of fights based on your performance.
At the time of this writing, I haven't made it past the game's first bounty, but the initial set of levels is filled with fresh things to discover even after a few hours. There are several different varieties of shops, more than a dozen enemy types, and each boss room I've seen has been different in some way from the last. In fact, it might be too much variety initially, as I've had a hard time latching onto constants like I would in a set of Binding of Isaac levels. Still, an overwhelming amount of content is never truly a bad thing in a game like this, and earning new perks has seen my progress creep forward as the hours pass swiftly by.
I've had precious few hours to spend with Flinthook so far, but I felt it imperative to share what I've played so far as quickly as I could. This is another roguelike that pushes the genre forward, bringing pinpoint accurate jumping and shooting to the endless arcade randomization that players of these games love. I will continue to play over time for a full review, but you have the chance to grab Flinthook today, and I can say with some certainty that it is well worth a look.