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Hands-on: ‘Flinthook’

'Flinthook' proves that a small indie darling can win E3

Flinthook, a little indie “rogue-lite” from Montreal-based developer Tribute made some waves at PAX East in March, with a flashy gameplay demo showing off its distinctive art style and grappling-hook-centric gameplay. The game, which came to E3 as part of Microsoft’s cadre of Xbox One indie games, was the smallest game I played at the show. It was also arguably the best.

At first glance, Flinthook is a bit of an indie game cliché. Players control a masked space-pirate, who boards spaceships to raid for treasure. Players move from room to room, using a grappling hook to navigate rooms full of enemies and traps. It’s cute, cherubic pixel-art aesthetic is, like so many others, reminiscent of an earlier time. Its “rogue-lite” progression — you restart the game from square one every time you die, but can acquire certain gear and perks that carry over from run to run — has become popular among small and midrange developers like Tribute, which has only eight people on staff.

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That’s all just scenery, though. The core gameplay mechanic of Flinthook is a grappling hook that players aim with the right stick, allowing them to shoot across a room in rapid, unpredictable ways. With grappling rungs spread liberally throughout each room, there’s an art to planning out your shots on the fly, so the pirate is always moving. In many rooms, he never has to touch the ground.

Combine that with a gun that’s aimed using the same stick as the grappling hooks, and a time-slowing mechanic used to get through certain puzzles, and there’s always two or three things you should be doing. A great Flinthook player, I imagine — I was pretty so-so — can balance on-the-fly planning and very fast multitasking. Even if all those thoughts get scrambled, there’s still an exhilarating speed to it.

Grappling hooks were a bit of a trend at E3 2016. In VR games, they’re a great excuse for moving players around a space without animating movement. In blockbuster shooters like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, they can break up the monotony of mechanical sweep-and-clear tactics that style of game encourages. Of all of them, Flinthook felt the most natural: The grappling hook is not the solution to a problem, or a way to mix things up. It’s just fun to use. Clearing a room without getting touched or touching the ground makes you feel smart and powerful.

Though an official release date has not been set, Tribute told Digital Trends its targeting an “early 2017” release date, and expects to launch the game on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4.