The world IS flat! Take that Columbus!
You’ve got to love a platformer that advertises its lack of a third dimension right in the title. Flat Kingdom is an unashamed 2D platformer that proudly boasts its straightforwardness. The plot is even about a princess of a fantasy kingdom being kidnapped, and some magic crystals being stolen – which would’ve been standard storyline fare back in the eighties. The protagonist of the tale – if anything – further reinforces Flat Kingdom’s unpretentiousness: it’s a little grey creature called Flat, who is capable of transforming into a circle, a triangle or a square. Don’t expect any labored monologues about a painful backstory from our hero! As soon as a weeping King instructs you to rescue the princess and retrieve the crystals, Flat scurries off to do the first tutorial, leaving you in no doubt about the sort of game you’re in for.
What you’re immediately introduced to is the rock-paper-scissors fundamentals of the gameplay. Flat’s triangular form can run very fast and skewer circular enemies. His square form can push heavy objects and flatten brittle triangular enemies. Finally, his circular form can double jump and… uh… confound square combatants. It’s up to you to determine what vague shape your adversary resembles. A monster with a beefy broad chest resembles a square and a predatory long-beaked bird is similar to a triangle, for example.
The various lands you’ll travel through have your standard elemental themes, such as a forest level, a volcano level, and an underwater level. Traversing these levels require use of a gradually expanding repertoire of skills. Flat’s triangle form can throw itself diagonally through the air like a spinning shuriken; sticking to certain bits of wall, allowing you to wall-jump up a vertical passageway.
There are other nifty combos you can use, such as jumping up with the circle form and coming down with a baddie crushing square drop; or hitting triangle in mid-air to airwalk quickly towards distant platforms. However, there are some abilities, such as the triangle-square dash combo – which breaks down brittle walls – that you’ll only really use to break down barriers to the next section of the level. Since you can’t use some of these abilities more creatively, they can feel a little gimmicky at times.
Speaking of goodies; the upgrade system is also pleasantly straightforward. On every level you’ll find a variety of coins scattered around. With little more than a brief detour down some passage, crevice or other naughty sounding synonym for “hole”, you can grab some handy floating, spinning currency. You can then spend 200 of these coins on buying another heart container for your health counter. Simple as that! It’s really handy if you’re the sort who spends hours dithering whether you want bullets that freeze dudes or set them on fire in other games.
At the end of each stage, you’ll face a boss. Battling these more sizable beasties is the highlight of Flat Kingdom, and they’ll require you to engage both your reactions and critical thinking faculties. Sometimes you’ll feel ever so clever for figuring out how to beat each boss with your geometric transforming powers. When facing one horrible winged beastie who would flap his wings to push me off a podium and into some lava – I found I could hold steady by quickly morphing into my weighted square form. Other times, however, I felt I was fumbling to remember which shape beat what, especially when I only had a split-second to make the decision. It especially didn’t help I was using a keyboard to transform into different shapes. Flat Kingdom really behooves one to use a playstation controller – where squares, triangles and circles have been engramatically carved into your brain for the last two decades.
The landscape has a clean, crisp combination of angular shapes in the background and polygonal objects that emerge into the foreground like a pop-out book. Not only is it visually pleasing, but it makes it very clear what you can and can’t interact with. I didn’t fumble about trying to jump onto things that weren’t there like I sometimes did in 2.5D games like LittleBigPlanet.
Despite this aesthetic coherence, it’s the funky level design that’s often a problem. There are plenty of really odd transitory sequences where you’re simply hopping up stairways, or pushing heavy objects onto switches – not facing any kind of enemies or obstacles. Flat Kingdom also has a weird checkpoint system that worsens this issue. Every so often you’ll come across a sleeping guard who will stand to attention and salute when you come past. There was one situation where a guard checkpoint was activated just before a very simple puzzle – which required me to jump on a drum as different shapes to play a melody. This unlocked the way to the next boss battle, but every time I died, it forced me to do this time-consuming jumping puzzle all over again before having another crack at the boss. Often, it’s tedious having to do a few minutes of menial running and jumping to get back to the challenge at hand when you respawn.
Having said that, the checkpoint guards are pretty entertaining. You can talk to every one of them and get their take on the situation. It was particularly amusing during the underwater level when most of them only commented “glub-glub-glub”, with one plucky fellow mentioning how he’d learnt to talk underwater, but couldn’t think of anything to say! There’s lots of little dashes of humour like this that brighten up the fairly rote gameplay.
Flat Kingdom isn’t amazing, but it’s a pleasantly simple diversion. There’s no labyrinthine systems to get to grips with, or an in-depth storyline littered with moral dilmenas to wrack your frayed emotions. It’s a game about running and jumping on things in a comfortingly colourful fantasy environment, with a gentle sprinkling of puzzles. For the blue-collar joes working full-time at the five-and-dime, who don’t necessarily want to get too deeply invested in their interactive entertainment, and just want some old-fashioned platforming fun: Flat Kingdom fits the bill.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Mac ; Publisher: Games Starter ; Developer: Fat Panda Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 7, 2016 ; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.