Flat Kingdom PC Review
Flat Kingdom is a 2.5D indie platformer that charms with its stylish design, light humour, and simple gameplay but inevitably wears on the player due to the slow combat and easy platforming. It tests new concepts but doesn’t quite flesh them out entirely and the experience suffers because of it. Unfortunately even the story is lacking in depth and fails to bring anything unique to the table which is a little dull considering the developers, FatPanda, come to us all the way from Mexico which has such a deep culture with incredible stories to tell.
What we get instead is terribly generic – a peaceful land is falling into chaos because somebody is stealing magical artefacts, which is upsetting the balance and the player character is the only one… yes, yes, we know. The interesting part is that the reason Flat, the protagonist, is the only one who can do anything about it is because parts of the world are morphing into 3D and this mystical creature of unknown origin alone can pass over both 2D and 3D terrain. What a shame that this is never used to spice up the gameplay at all though and the game remains statically a 2D experience, even if the game world which is being traversed does ‘pop’ out.
Starting off there are only a few things that Flat can do. Changing shape is the crux of the game and there are 3 forms to shift between – a triangle; the fastest mode, a square; the strong but slow one, and a circle; average agility with the ability to double jump. Stomping the ground is really only ‘power’ that you start with and it’s accomplished by double jumping and then changing to a square mid-air. More advanced techniques can be performed for mobility too, such as run-jumping as triangle to reach further, then switching to circle for the extra jump. Although, this is more for the player as the game sadly never requires anything that complex. The shapes are also required for combat with a rock-paper-scissors system dictating which side takes damage. It’s an interesting mechanic and it’s fun, for a while anyway.
The main problem with Flat Kingdom is the lack of evolution in its gameplay. Even as you acquire new powers all they allow you to do is manoeuvre past obstacles to get to new areas, where you’ll go back to simply jumping around and changing shape. The new powers are barely used to increase the difficulty of the platforming puzzles or battles. The bosses especially should have been used to challenge these new found skills but, unfortunately, they are all exactly the same – learn to dodge the incoming array of 5/6 attacks by either moving out of the way or jumping until you are given a clear opening to attack, then hit the weak point with the correct shape or stomp attack. Lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. The final boss (not the true ending), whilst designed much more interestingly, still follows this basic strategy and requires no mastery of the game. That is an obvious violation of game design laws.
There’s also a bit of backtracking to find secondary level exits before being granted access to the final area. Strange that these exits are not difficult to find but instead simply require the use of a new power found later in the game. There’s really no purpose. Let’s take Metroid for example – backtracking in Metroid is extremely common but it allows the player to recover health and ammo by going back over areas that they have come to know well and are stronger than. It also supports the claustrophobic, maze-like theme. Now Mario – ghost houses often have more than one exit but they are a challenge to find and so you’re rewarded with some secretive levels or shortcuts. In Flat Kingdom it feels like backtracking is just used to extend the gameplay unnecessarily, especially since going over levels again is already needed if you want the true ending and must find all the collectibles.
Art-wise the game is rather simple looking but charming and pretty in its own way. A kind of hybrid between 3D models and paper-craft. The sound design was also very interesting, for one things it was a total shock to find that the music was composed by Manami Matsumae of Shovel Knight and Megaman fame. It’s a great soundtrack but can start to irritate as the loops are short and so much time can be spent on a single world when hunting collectibles or playing on hard mode, resulting in the same little jingle being repeated over and over.
In all, it was a decent attempt at a new concept but didn’t quite ever make it further than that. Some strong user testing and in-depth knowledge of game design was clearly missing here but there are hints of a sequel, if the ending cutscenes are anything to go by, and I truly believe that it could be something special if attacked from the right angle. So don’t lose faith, FatPanda, as you could be onto something here and the lack of video game developers in Mexico is appalling! I’d recommend getting Flat Kingdom on sale or definitely playing it if it’s ever on a service such as PlayStation+, even if just to recognise the potential that will hopefully be lived up to in its successor.