Every couple years a game comes along which sets the bar for a genre. For precision platformers N did it in 2008, Super Meat Boy followed in 2010, and now, there is a new title to carry that torch. Flat Heroes combines a minimal design aesthetic with crisp gameplay, delivering a tight platforming experience that shouldn’t be missed.
At first glance Flat Heroes does not look like much. The entire game takes place in a large square, taking up roughly half of the screen. You control a smaller square with the goal of surviving an onslaught of smaller shapes coming at you hot. Within this limited play area a series of platforms can be used to block and hide from the incoming waves of threats, or you can attempt to neutralize them with a pulse emanating from your square. If you survive, you proceed to the next level.
The campaign is structured as a series of 15 waves [read: levels] across 8 worlds. Early levels are simple with only a single enemy type to study. The difficulty quickly ramps up, as both the number of enemies and types increases. Each world will introduce a new mechanic and mixes it with elements from previous worlds. Older enemies would come back and interact with new enemies, forcing me to change my tactics I had relied on in the previous world. The on-boarding was perfect as it gave me enough time to learn enemy patterns and execute on them without being frustrating. Once I thought I had mastered a given world, Flat Heroes introduced a completely unique boss fight to cap off the world. These are some of the most well designed encounters in the game and required me to use everything I’ve learned from playing so far.
One of the most important aspects of a precision platformer is the respawn time. If it isn’t instantaneous, these games don’t work. I couldn’t put a number to my total deaths across my Flat Heroes playthrough, but I died a lot. What is important is that it didn’t interrupt my flow of playing the game. Because everything is gained through learning from failure, it is pivotal that the time between death and life feels right. The added touch of slow-motion kicking in right at the time of death is a nice stylistic effect which made every death easier to swallow.
It’s funny to speak on the ‘character design’ in a game completely made up of geometric shapes, but Parallel Circles has managed to give these little bits some emotion. They do this through amazing animation and a great understanding of physics, giving both the player character and enemies life. Even the hand crafted bosses seem to have meanacing characteristics and emotion expressed through their movements and aggression. From the level smooth level transitions to the satisfying ‘thud’ when you hit a platform, there is wonderful artistic expression within Flat Heroes.
The art direction also plays into the game design as players have to understand what each enemy does just by looking at their shape. Enemy routes are made up of beautiful lines, and once recognized I could make a decision on my best route to success. This feedback loop of learning, analyzing, and executing would be cumbersome if not for excellent character design. The ability of the art and game design to be in concert with each other left me with a game that ‘just feels right’.
I played through about half of the worlds on my own and half with a combination of 2-4 other players. While the game itself doesn’t change with more players, the experience sure does. More players adds to the chaos, as you have to pay attention to your own character as well as avoid bumping into your friends. However, it also means more targets for the enemy; increasing the chances for survival. The game doesn’t stop when one player falls, which is a smart decision as I feel the opposite would make for a friendship-ending scenario. Flat Heroes is an ideal local co-op game as the challenging nature leads to some great highs and lows on the couch.
The campaign is fully playable in co-op with up to four players and there is a survival mode that unlocks after completing part of the campaign. Flat Heroes also features leaderboards, Twitch integration, and some awesome GIF creation after every death. Finally, there is a versus mode, which I didn’t touch all that much, but it is a competitive palate cleanser if you get sick of having too much fun with your friends in campaign or survival mode.
I love playing this game solo, but it really shines when you have a couch full of people playing. There is no substitute for the laughs and yells uttered when we were playing as a group. Just make sure there are enough controllers to go around because it is required for success. Albeit more hectic, I think I preferred playing co-op which is a rare feat in a platformer of this nature.
I have always found beauty in simplicity and Flat Heroes’ minimalistic approach is as beautiful as it is deceptive. Sure, it is a bunch of shapes in a box, but the aesthetic choices, the way the shapes seem to express their own attitudes via movement, and the resulting gameplay is practically poetry in motion. It is also hands down one of the most challenging games I have ever played. That’s not an easy balance to strike but Parallel Circles has done so to an extraordinary degree. Go play this now and have fun being square.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to 4 players will be able to enjoy an amazingly challenging journey with the Waves mode, an intense cooperative experience featuring over 100 challenging levels where they will have to fight many different enemies and multiple epic bosses.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.