Review: “Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition” (Xbox)

Originally created thanks to crowdfunding, Fat Panda Games’ 2D platformer Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition is making the jump from PC to consoles thanks to publisher Ratalaika Games.*

The eternal battle between 2D and 3D has come to the peaceful Flat Kingdom. Now a brave warrior named Flat must venture into unfamiliar 3D landscapes to collect six magical jewels, rescue a kidnapped princess, and learn the truth about what is really happening to the world around him. Unfortunately, a villainous fox named Hex is out to collect the jewels as well, so you’re in a race against time to grab them first, and prevent the 2D kingdom from being transformed into a 3D one.

Flat can take one of three forms: a circle, triangle and square, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The circle can double jump, the triangle is fast, and the square is slow – but can stomp through barriers. Each form’s abilities can be upgraded over time, but most importantly, these forms are the key to attacking enemies, which also have a predominant shape. Each enemy is vulnerable to one of your shapes: round enemies are weak to triangle, square enemies are weak to circle, and triangle enemies are weak to the square form. Most of the time, all you have to do to wipe the enemies out is touch them in the appropriate form. Most of the time.

See Flat run. Run, Flat, run!

Sounds simple, right? It’s really not. While each enemy’s shapes are sometimes pretty clear, others take a bit of extra time, attention, or old fashioned trial-and-error to figure out, the latter of which will mean that you often take a hit or two in the process.

As far as the enemies themselves are concerned, just about all of creation is out to stop you- irate snails, piggish bats, portly rabbits, bloodthirsty piranhas, Venus flytraps, electric jellyfish, projectile-spitting seahorses, possessed statues, exploding penguins… it’s a video game, after all. I actually appreciated the game trying to explain this away in the story, that all of the animals are becoming more vicious now that the magic stones are out of place.

You’ll meet all of these enemies across five main stages – Flat Kingdom Castle, a magical forest, a fiery Mayan temple, the icy lands of Flatsgard, and the lost city of Flatlantis (sorry fellas- all of the mermaid statues are flat as hell). Each stage has fresh challenges and unique twists on how to use your abilities, such as riding in mine carts, navigating water currents, and flinging yourself from spiky flowers.

Flat must conquer the giant worm- perhaps the only creature in the kingdom not dead-set on killing him

Once you’ve completed all of the main stages, you will have to return to four of them and using your upgraded abilities, find a hidden area in which to activate a switch (there’s a story reason for this… sort of). Some of the platforming is challenges are tougher in these new areas, but at least you don’t have to fight the bosses again when you replay these stages.

Hitting all four switches gives you access to the final stage in the heavens, and that’s where you will have to take on several of the bosses again. You’re significantly powered up now, though, and you’ve presumably figured out the patterns to eliminate each one, so they shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to plow through.

So many tentacles… and there’s not even an anime babe in sight!

But we haven’t really discussed the boss fights, have we? Each main stage has a midpoint boss and a final boss, and these are the most interesting sequences in Flat Kingdom. These massive battles include giant spiders, dragons, killer whales, wolves, wraiths, and even living pyramids. Each fight typically requires you employ all of your abilities in some way. The boss battles are tricky, and I sometimes found that their attack sequences don’t offer you many chances to inflict damage, which can be annoying if you’ve done nothing but dodge for three or four minutes straight (this did happen once). You have infinite lives, and there’s no time limit to contend with, so you are free to experiment until you get it right.

That said, the Flat Kingdom’s final boss, (*name withheld to avoid spoilers*), was actually rather easy. Disappointingly easy, in fact. Perhaps this was due to my being well powered up, as I had collected all but one life extension by the end of the game. Flat starts with only three hearts of health, but you can collect more for a total up to twelve. To obtain the extra hearts, there are four side quest missions to complete, each of which involves finding and returning a hidden item to an NPC. You can also collect coins in each stage and buy hearts from the store for 200 coins. While you can return to past stages to amass more coins, the ones you’ve already collected don’t come back.

¡Qué mala suerte! Lay off the poblanos, ese!

Aesthetically, Flat Kingdom has vibrant visuals that do a good job bridging the gap between 2D and 3D. The camera zooms out from time to time, giving you plenty of looking space to predict your next moves, and there are some neat effects from time to time as Flat’s 2D world transforms into a 3D one. The only visual complaint that I have is that the few cinematic story sequences look pretty rough. They’re a bit hazy, and the character models look 10-20% freakish. Honestly, these remind me of mid-90s full motion video from the SEGA Saturn or the original PlayStation. Maybe not quite that bad, but they remind me of it. In any case, these sequences are not part of the actual gameplay, so it probably shouldn’t bother you too much.

The music is by Manami Matsumae, a composer well known for her work on Capcom’s original Mega Man games. Flat Kingdom’s soundtrack isn’t quite as beat-heavy, but it fits the onscreen action very well, and is absolutely one of the strongest selling points of Flat Kingdom.

All this Mega Man talk is now bringing back Armored Armadillo stage memories

Among the criticisms I have for Flat Kingdom, first and foremost has to be that none of Flat’s three forms felt quite right, from a platforming perspective. The circle form was just a bit too slow for my taste, the triangle was faster but wasn’t much of a jumper, and the square form is essentially limited to being a tool for solving puzzles or sinking in water. I understand that the purpose is to combine and master all three forms on the fly, but there were plenty of times when I felt like a simple task was rendered a bit too complicated.

Flat Kingdom isn’t particularly tough on the normal difficulty setting, but the shape-shifting mechanic will take a little bit of time to get used to (2-3 stages). Even with the necessary backtracking to open the final stage, some might feel that Flat Kingdom is too short. I personally don’t think so. It took me about four hours to finish the game, and for an asking price of less than $10, that seems fair to me. If you complete 100% of your journal, then you can unlock an additional boss fight and a new ending. At 97%, I wasn’t quite able to find everything, but there is at least that small amount of replay value in trying to find it all.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed my time in the Flat Kingdom. It took some time to get used to the mechanics, and some of the boss fights may irritate you until you get the patterns down, but Flat Kingdom is a unique, stylish platformer with vibrant visuals and a great soundtrack. It may be a bit short for some gamer’s tastes, but there’s nothing stopping you from jumping back in from square one for a full afternoon’s worth of entertainment, and then there’s that pesky journal that I still need to 100%…

Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition is available now for Steam PC, Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

*Disclosure: A copy of Flat Kingdom for Xbox was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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