The third project and first major title from California developer Studio Thunderhorse, Flynn: Son of Crimson is a 2D pixel art platformer channelling the vibe of the SNES/Sega Mega Drive era. The project was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter back in 2017 and published by Humble Games.
Feel the Power of Crimson!
Pixel art platforming has another great to add to its ever-growing library. Flynn: Son of Crimson takes the best elements of late ‘80s/early ‘90s platforming and takes players on a nostalgic yet new adventure.
In the fantasy nation of Rosantica, the veil between civilisation and the dark entity known as The Scourge is growing thin. Twisted creatures have begun to break through and spread their malevolence. The only thing standing in its way is young hero Flynn, a boy with a celestial heritage, and giant canine companion Dex, one of the Guardians of Rosantica. But a chance encounter with a powerful scourge assassin sees Flynn weakened and Dex sapped of her Guardian Spirits that fuel her power. If our hero is to prove victorious over this formidable enemy, Flynn must retrieve the Spirits and embrace his destiny through mastering Crimson Energy.
Flynn opts for the Super Mario World formula of a branching hub world with linear platforming stages. While it may be a little disappointing for those expecting a broader Metroidvania approach, personally I feel this kind of linearity works in its favour. Players must guide young Flynn through the stage, laying waste to enemies and solving puzzles along the way. Being a lover of puzzles, I’m always appreciative of these elements, no matter how small; some are genuinely quite tricky and require a little bit of careful thought to best. Like in many platformers, control can be a little slippy when trying to time jumps, but it is fairly sporadic. Most of the time, controls are tights and moves are executed on point.
Certain village levels act as interim stages with villages and settlements with various NPCs, some giving small quests and others relaying story elements or things to watch out for. It’s always worth chatting to everyone you come across to build a greater understanding of Flynn’s heritage and Rosantican lore. Completing quests will also earn you themed keys that will give you access to intense challenge stages.
This leads me into one of the core aspects of this adventure: combat. As Flynn progresses, he earns 3 different Crimson weapons to overcome different enemies and obstacles: the Sword, the Axe and the Claws. The Sword is a good all-rounder with fairly equal damage and speed, the Axe packs enough of a punch to break down walls but is much slower and the Claws deal the lowest damage but are exceptionally fast and allow for wall-scaling. All three are extremely fun to mix and match with and it’s difficult to have a solid favourite. Personally I’d go for the Claws if pushed – I often go for the fast, furious and flighty combat style.
Through the discovery of certain flora and fungi along the way, elemental magic can also be acquired. While significantly weaker than melee combat, these powers can weaken enemies and prove vital in traversing platforms and solving puzzles. All of this goes hand in hand with mastering Crimson Energy. This fiery red aethereal power gives Flynn unique combat abilities to gain the upper hand over enemies in his path. And when enemies threaten to overwhelm, a full charge bar can activate Crimson Control. This grants invincibility, greatly enhanced strength and lightning-fast combos. When you’re backed into a corner, this is tremendously satisfying to activate and rain down fury on your adversaries!
Once you have retrieved enough Guardian Spirits, then the huge and lovable Dex comes into play. She’s the best companion, yes she is! At certain summoning statues, Dex can be called as a mount to traverse dangerous sections and fight back against packs of enemies. It’s almost impossible not to feel unstoppable atop your divine doggo, chewing, chomping and charging across the landscape.
Graphics & Audio
If you’re anything like me and completely swoon over exquisite pixel art, then you will be thoroughly spoiled. The pixel art graphics are simply stunning with lusciously vibrant colour palettes reflecting the different stages. Scourge-ridden levels channel the “evil” palettes of purple, black and lime green, commonly used and associated with classic Disney movie villains. Pinks, blues and mint greens set the scene of the underwater sea caves of The Hollow. And leaf greens, yellows and browns give life to The Great Forest. Most cutscenes consist of graphic novel style static panels depicting the action between sections. But nothing is lost in the lack of motion – more is captured in these simple images than in some elaborate animations and they lend themselves perfectly to the feel of the game.
The animation is also crisp and expressive; even dialogue text and the health/crimson energy bars exhibit quirky little animations in certain states. Flynn himself has the spunky anime boy hero vibe about him that we all know and love, complete with gravity-defying spiky hair and cheeky expression. Not to mention the cutest Ghibli-esque waddle when treading water! Dex also has a powerful, strong form and the most utterly charming tail wags and tongue flicks; not that she needs much more to cement herself as Best Doggo.
And if you’re looking for a new soundtrack to add to your music library, Flynn is definitely one to go straight into a playlist. The tracks are wonderfully evocative and eclectic; it’s difficult not to stop the action for a spell to listen. Plucky flutes mix with Eastern strings, Celtic violins co-mingle with bold percussion. It’s rare you find such a soundtrack that incorporates so many styles and approaches without at least one track being jarring. But this score is one you could easily listen to outside of the game and still immerse yourself in musical splendour and the world of Rosantica.
In terms of the main storyline, players will generally average around 5 – 6 hours, give or take a little depending on how much grief the bosses give you. If you’re a completionist (or ‘Collectible Goblin’ as I dub myself), seeking out the collectible relics in each stage will perhaps set you back another hour or so; some are a little tricky to obtain. All in all, it’s roughly around 8 hours of playtime. A common length among indie adventures, though it can feel a little on the short side. But with its ease of play and riveting nature, it can easily become a comfort game that you can return to time and again.
Pixel platformers may be a dime a dozen, but this is a shiny sovereign. The formula may be familiar, but familiar is always a comfort. Flynn: Son of Crimson is a beautiful platforming adventure brimming with charm that will win you over no matter how many similar titles you’ve played. The gameplay is sleek, the pixels are crunchy and the story is full of heart. Every time you play, you’ll find yourself going “Just one more level. Just one more relic…”
A well-deserved Thumb Culture Gold Award for this crimson catch!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.