If there’s one genre in gaming that never fails to evoke that same wide-eyed amazement of picking up a controller as a kid, it’s the platformer. Whether it’s exploring the secret-filled playgrounds of Super Mario Odyssey, blasting barrel to barrel through the Donkey Kong Country series or pushing yourself to the absolute limit with the hard as nails Super Meat Boy. Hell, I’ve raced through so many versions of Green Hill Zone now that I practically know it better than my own back garden. And while these examples all proudly boast a charismatic hero in their lead role, what about a game where you simply play as a 2D shape? A nameless, faceless square to be exact.
Flat Heroes is as pure a 2D platformer as you can get, stripping away the excess of any huge and complex worlds, heroes with backstories or countless collectables. No instead, Flat Heroes wants to get straight to the point. In it you take control of a small square, your sole goal to avoid waves of dangerous projectiles for a set amount of time. Your repertoire of moves to do this is minimal, to say the least, the square able to roll around (or as close to rolling as you can get as a quadrilateral), jump, dash in the air, stick to walls and emit a small pulse-like attack. Limited as this may sound, you’re able to pull off almost acrobatic-like actions, whether it’s clinging to a wall as you use it for cover or off of projectiles before they have time to detonate. Even though you are just a square, the controls and fluidity in movement feel brilliant.
Levels themselves always take place on a single screen some containing vertical or horizontal walls, some none at all and some even killing you should you touch the large encompassing outer perimeter. Enemies come in many different flavours too – everything from projectiles that fire straight, homing explosives, balls that bounce around splitting apart on impact and plenty more devilish attacks to make keep you on your toes.
The game’s main offering, Campaign, is split into ten “worlds” each consisting of fourteen stages and a final boss battle. This mode does a great job of introducing you to the game’s numerous enemies whilst upping the challenge at a comfortable pace so as never to discourage. Complete enough levels and you’ll eventually unlock Hero versions of each “world” – even tougher variations that will test your platforming skills to their absolute limit. All in all, this brings the total stage count to a massive 300. Much like games like Super Meat Boy, these levels are short enough that death never frustrates whilst load times are almost non-existent between attempts. Being able to jump right back into the action without hesitation is a much-appreciated feature, especially given how many times you’re likely to see your square explode into pieces.
Boss battles are a real highlight, each one with its own attack patterns and weak points. One cool example involved a snake-like enemy that would eventually leave weak areas to attack in its body as it chases you around the stage. Another boss meanwhile would bounce around the level gradually getting faster and faster till it damaged itself on a wall. These are among some of the tougher parts of the game but easily the most rewarding too.
Another mode, Survival, consists of a selection of endless trials, your best times being compared with others in online leaderboards. Addictive as these trials are – especially the rotational daily challenge – the means to unlock each is an odd one. Only by earning enough points through playing can you eventually try them all. It’s a weird choice and one that feels out of place especially given the freedom you have in the rest of the game.
What’s great about Flat Heroes is that it works equally well as a single player experience or a multiplayer one. The latter in particular is integrated in fantastic fashion, players able to drop in and out of either the game’s Campaign or Survival modes easily. Thanks to the clean visuals and the fact all the action takes place on a single screen, you rarely feel hindered by the presence of your teammates – quite the opposite in fact – their inclusion making things a little easier since only one of you needs to survive each level’s barrage of attacks.
Flat Heroes’ visuals might consist of nothing more than straight lines, simple shapes and pastel colours, however, there’s a certain elegance to this very minimalistic look that just oozes style. This less is more approach flows right through to the unlockable palette swaps. A neat addition, each offer subtle and simple tweaks to the colour theme of the entire game – everything from the background to your square to the enemies.
A competitive Versus mode is also included with four unique options – Zones, Battle, Runner and Catch. Best enjoyed with a full four-player group, each offers their own unique objective to accomplish. A personal favourite amongst our group was Zones – circles randomly appearing on the stage and points awarded the longer you manage to survive within them. As you can imagine with four squares all vying for the spot things can get fairly hectic.
Who could have thought a game focused on squares would be so much fun? Simple on the surface but underneath its minimalistic presentation lays the beating heart of a challenging and extremely satisfying platformer. One packed with content that can be enjoyed whether you’re playing alone or in a group. If you’re on the search for a new eShop purchase then I cannot recommend Flat Heroes enough. An absolute must for fans of the genre.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Deck 13 Interactive