Flynn: Son of Crimson is a deluxe hot chocolate. I just want to snuggle into an armchair and reward myself with a solid, unbroken couple of hours with my hands wrapped around it. It feels like a video game in the purest terms, a frothy adventure with little in the way of friction or annoyances. And it rewards your attention by being deep and rich.
It’s certainly not original, and that’s okay. You will have played countless games that feel like it, that look like it, or both. The action-platformer is one of the most saturated genres out there, and the less said about pixel-art games the better. But it wanders into these crowded rooms with a real swagger, and does everything – well, mostly everything – extremely well.
You start the game in your homestead in Rosantica, with your pet Dex, an Okami-like wolf who just happens to be the Island Guardian. I love this setup, as it’s so nonchalant: yeah, my pet is a spiritual manifestation of the island, what of it? You’re quickly off on a mission to a Crimson Shrine, which a thief is looking to raid for its power, but the shrine chooses to power you up to 9000 instead (the ‘Son of Crimson’ in the title). In retaliation, the thief steals power from poor old Dex and runs off to do much the same with the other Island Guardians. And so the chase begins.
This chase takes place over your traditional Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country map, as you are following a mostly linear path from level to level. There are towns to chat with people, collect side-quests and generally take a breather from the manic platforming.There are occasional boss levels, sometimes stapled to a level, other times standing on their own. And most of the time it’s just a plain old platforming level interspersed with enemies.
It’s a familiar template, but Flynn: Son of Crimson has some fun with it. A few of the levels have the words ‘Multiple Exits’ tagged on them, so you’ll have a choice about where you emerge. There’s a touch of Shantae about these free-form moments, and it makes it more complicated than just riding the bullet train through a linear series of levels.
Occasionally, levels get attacked by ‘The Scourge’, a purple goo that’s effectively the big-bad of Flynn: Son of Crimson. Think Ghostbusters 2. So, you’re hopping back into older levels, except – generously – they have completely different layouts, and share wallkits and themes with what was there before. Once again, Flynn: Son of Crimson isn’t as linear as it first seems.
A quick time-out here, as it’s a good time to call out The Scourge, which often led to our least favourite moments with the game. While they are completely new levels, so don’t feel like a back-track, they also lock off all the other levels, meaning that your only possible next move is to defeat it. Clearly, the developers didn’t want you to be overloaded by Scourged levels, but it means that the freeform nature of Flynn goes out of the window. The great work in giving you choice is undermined. Considering that levels with The Scourge were often the most challenging, it became a wall quickly built in front of you, just as you were enjoying yourself.
But let’s accentuate the positive, as playing the levels can be an absolute dream. The controls are tight as they come, and the responsiveness is better than anything we could have asked for.
Combat lays down some ground rules immediately. Enemies will attack you, and when they do, they will flash. So you need to roll out of the way. If you hit them enough, then they will stagger, spinning stars around their head. This gives you a period of time to whack them like a pinata. These rules take you all the way through to the end, including the bosses. Then Flynn: Son of Crimson gives you the capability to interrupt actions mid-animation, so that you’re never caught with your pants down. In the middle of a combo and an enemy flashes? You can roll midway through, and – congratulations – you got out of the way in time.
It’s just so elegant and effective. Each creature develops its own rhythm of rolls and attacks. A wolf will attack straight away, but staggers easily, so it’s just a roll and then hit-hit-hit. Knights don’t stagger easily and attack metronomically, so you’re doing a roll-hit-roll-hit. As long as you’re not careless and rushing through a level (it absolutely happens), you will get into a Guitar Hero-style flow.
There are flaws here and there. Flynn: Son of Crimson loves a knight. For whatever reason, there are more flavours of them than there are Ben & Jerry’s. But while their attacks do different things, the rhythm stays the same, and there was a slight staleness there. These Shovel Knight-looking things are often wheeled out as mini-bosses, and we sighed rather than felt the adrenaline rise. They’re just slow-to-kill sponges.
To a degree, the sameness can be true of the wider game. Enemies aren’t quite as varied as we would have liked, and are variants on the same formula – goblins, wasps, wolves. Some enemies flash a little too frequently, too, making them slow-to-kill through sheer pestering. Slightly more frustrating than all of these combined, the checkpointing is inconsistent, and you will sometimes return to life (with a 5% penalty on your acquired treasures, no less) before a miniboss that you had previously killed a few screens back. The rules on respawning are too scattershot.
But very generally, combat is a dream. The same is true of the platforming. Part of that’s down to its simplicity. There are few gimmicks here – no grappling hooks, super-jumps or blink-teleports – just tight platforming with generous safety nets like ledge-grabs if you don’t quite make a jump. It allows Flynn: Son of Crimson to put together more complicated sequences of jumps and get away with it, and it makes you feel like Prince of Persia as a result. We often found ourselves feeling like platforming superstars when, in all likelihood, we were anything but.
The levels aren’t anything staggeringly imaginative – we didn’t admire a particular set-piece, for example – but it uses platforming’s toolbox to good effect, and levels have plenty that differentiate them. Plus, emerging from a level feels great: you might have a treasure tucked in your backpack to sell; a key to a previous exit that you had to bypass; purple gems to spend on upgrades; missions to hand in; or you’ve simply unlocked a new level or series of levels to play. Flynn: Son of Crimson likes to over-serve you with rewards and things to do, rather than hope that the gameplay is good enough to keep you going. Which it is, incidentally.
We could be critical and say that there’s not a huge amount of replayability to Flynn: Son of Crimson, but it’s long enough to make the issue moot, and we’d prefer it if the occasional modern game was finite and satisfying. Not everything has to be Destiny 2. This is twelve or so hours of rich, frothy hot chocolate, and we enjoyed every last sip of it.
The world may not need any more pixel-art platformers, but whenever we were away from Flynn: Son of Crimson, we deeply wanted to play it. It’s world is generous and rich, and it lets you off the leash with precise combat and platforming. So, clear a few afternoons, pony up for a Game Pass subscription, and relax into an exquisitely made adventure. You will regret nothing.
You can buy Flynn: Son of Crimson for £16.74 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It is also available on Game Pass.