Coming from a sadistic developer by the name of kyuu Fujisaki (yes, the leading lower case character appears to be deliberate) and the publishers at Minimol Games, Flatland Vol.2, I assume, follows on from the events in Flatland Vol.1. I say I assume as the first game in the sequence had completely passed me by, and judging by my current blood pressure, that’s a good thing too! You see, this is billed by the developer as a “fast paced, hardcore platformer”. Yet it is billed by me as “flipping hard”. Does this game hit the spot or should it be left amongst the veritable skyscraper of similar titles?
The story, as always, is absolutely vital and yet at the same completely unnecessary. We play as Square; a square that has somehow got the ability to move, dash and jump, and also the ability to die a hideous, traumatising death if you put so much as a pixel wrong on your run through the various “hand crafted” levels.
I described this game, when pressed for what it was like, as a cross between Super Meat Boy and Tron. It has the diabolical layout and difficulty of the former, and the “everything is made of neon” aesthetic of the latter. Everything looks lovely and shiny, in various shades of neon, until you look a little bit closer and realise that the levels are full of Square-killing twirly things, Square-puncturing spikes and various other things that are all designed to cause the maximum amount of damage in the shortest possible time. Square himself (or herself, it’s hard to tell) appears to be remarkably fragile, and the slightest brush with one of the many hazards will send you back to the start of the screen faster than you can say “I never touched it!”.
The graphics on display are pretty minimalist, and as a design choice it works pretty well. The edges of platforms have a lovely neon glow, and the character of Square is pretty, well, square. All in all the game does everything that can be expected of it. There’s never any doubt about where’s safe to stand, and where is deadly – let’s put it that way.
Of course, this helps as you sail helplessly through the air, as you can always pick out exactly which spike you’re about to hit, which is nice. The music throughout the game is very pleasant as well, and as a bonus it is fairly relaxing, helping to delay the moment that always comes where you just want to throw the controller through the TV screen as Square again dies. And dies again, and again, and so on and so forth.
The gameplay loop is described as “run, jump, die, learn, repeat”. Although I actually think there are another couple of stages to this loop – namely “swear” and “ask what am I doing with my life to keep trying to complete this stupid level with stupidly impossible jumps”. You could probably also throw in the old classic “throw controller across the room and play something else”. You see, the problem with Flatland Vol.2 is found in the pure twitch platforming that is required. The fact is that now, as I advance in years, I can no longer keep up with the demands. Remember bullet time in Max Payne? I need something like that turned on permanently for games like this.
The jumping and wall jumping mechanic alone has caused me more deaths than I care to remember, although I have unlocked the achievement for dying 30 times, so at least there is some reward for my pain.
Jumping up walls is possible with accurate and timely presses of the jump button, but making it up a wall while there is a spinning blade half way up it? Not a chance. Even a double jump is not enough to make it through certain levels, and so the old gameplay loop now should include “rub lucky rabbit’s foot” for good luck.
For me, the timing proved very difficult to get, and while there are doubtless hidden depths to the control mechanics that may make it easier to survive, the balance of that against frustration only ends one way.
However, if you do get what Flatland Vol.2 is looking to provide there are a number of different modes to go at, and in a nice touch they are unlocked from the outset. This means that should you fancy playing Tesseract mode, or trying the other super challenging modes (as the story mode is so straightforward) then you can pretty much knock yourself out. It’s definitely appreciated that all the options are available from pretty much the get-go.
The problem is, Flatland Vol.2 is a very hard platformer with a lot of depth to it. And that in itself will determine what you get from the game. It isn’t for me, but I’m guessing that the target demographic is not a 48 year old bloke with fading reflexes. If you want a challenge, and have the necessary vocabulary, then Flatland Vol.2 might be right up your alley. Personally, I need a lie down!
Test your might with one of the hardest platformers out there, as Flatland Vol.2 releases on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One