Thursday, March 5, 2009


Year: 1992
Rating: *****
The finest platformer ever made.*

If you do a quick search for Flashback you'll soon find some website telling you that it's an action-adventure platformer. This description is insufficient. Flashback is a thriller right down to the core of its soul. From the plot, the pacing, the step learning curve to the gunfight mechanics every element quietly seethes slow burn suspense.

In your first hour with it you'll die, a lot, and in stupid humiliating ways. If you're like me you'll probably want to quit. But don't it's worth it. Slowly as you retrain your gaming instincts, as you get used to the esoteric controls as you begin to approach every situation with extreme caution you'll get it. The game isn't so much really hard as it is easy to die. As long as you're careful and think about what you're doing you'll be fine. It gives everything a sense of weight, of substance. When I play most platformers I can switch off and go along for the ride but I never really suspend my disbelief. Flashback above all is believable. I believe in its mechanics, its world, its characters, its story. It's like a giant snowball effect with the end result being an intensely atmospheric and immersive experience.

Flashback was created by seminal developer Delphine Software. Long before anyone was asking if games were art, Delphine like the French bastards they were just knuckled down and made great art. They remind me of Jean-Pierre Melville the French filmmaker who took American Film Noir and turned it into something more up scale and classy in the process inspiring the likes of Scorsese and Tarantino. Every time people talk about how games like Half-Life and GTA are pushing the medium in a more mature direction I think of Flashback and it's grimy dystopian world.

I very briefly mentioned how the gunfight mechanics are suspenseful and I just want to explain what I mean. In most gunplay based games you run around blasting enemies away in a frankly reckless fashion. The idea is to give you a steady stream of excitement. In Flashback you approach every enemy with caution. You look at where they are, figure out how you can reach them and from that formulate a plan. You have to because bravado will get you killed. Often times the fun is in the anticipation of the gunfights. Also pulling off your elaborate scheme carries an immense sense of satisfaction. Okay so sometimes the plan doesn’t work and you have to improvise. But when that happens the mad scramble is exhilarating because unlike most games you don’t spend 90% of your playtime in it.

Flashback is a platformer for the hardcore. Don't ever let anyone tell you Sonic and Mario are anything but casual, sure they can both be extremely difficult at times but so can Dinner Dash. What really makes something casual is the way it nurtures the player and guides them into the experience. Flashback throws you in the deep end and expects you to swim. You won't you'll drown but if you keep plugging away at it you'll find something much richer and more adult than the standard SNES and Mega Drive fare. Is it less fun than Sonic or Mario? Depends on your definition of fun really. Is candy tasty? Of course. Is beef jerky tasty? You betcha. Do they taste anything alike? I hope not.

*Cheers to Glyn for that line.

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