An indie dev can have some of the best pixel art and lovingly animated sprites, but it can ultimately feel shallow and empty if the game itself has no imagination. While it can help elevate the experience if a 2D action-platformed has excellent production values, a sloppier game with a bit of ambition is usually a lot more memorable and enjoyable.
There is nothing more frustrating than a competent video game that is utterly devoid of soul. Flynn: Son of Crimson is clearly made by a team with passion who wanted their game to be great, it’s just that they didn’t put am authorial mark to make it unique or interesting. It’s safe and flavorless; something that will be swallowed up in the mountainous deluge of similar indie titles.
Flynn: Son of Crimson is what happens when the developers lack a vision of their own, and opt to cherry pick ideas and concepts from existing games that they enjoyed or grew up with. This is not inherently a terrible direction, but it does help if the game designers inject some personal flair or a directorial stamp of some kind, instead of begrudgingly going through the motions.
Flynn: Son of Crimson
Developer: Studio Thunder Horse
Publisher: Humble Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS,
Release Date: September 15, 2021
Price: $19.99 USD
The story begins with Flynn and his magical dog’s soul being taken, as a greater evil is accumulating power. Trolls and goblins are on the rise; as well as living armors that are eager to split Flynn’s head in two. It won’t take long before Dex, Flynn’s enormous dog, is restored and becomes an indispensable part of his range of abilities; and the quest to thwart evil continues.
There is not much to the story. Character flavor text is sparse, and the world is flimsily built. The towns that are visited have plenty of houses, but none can be entered, and only key NPCs can be conversed with. Not that much of this will matter much, since nobody will play Flynn for its narrative. That is a shame because some artist cared enough to make splash art scenes to depict story events.
The main draw of Flynn is its action, which is functional but also woefully unchallenging. Even on the hardest available difficulty, the hero is savagely overpowered. Flynn is granted further endowments of strength and violent abilities as the game progresses. Bosses won’t stand a chance against the most basic strategies, because they follow very simplistic patterns that are overly telegraphed.
The hardest thing to do in Flynn: Son of Crimson is staying awake while playing it. Level design is simple, and does not use all of the mechanics to their fullest potential. It’s almost like an algorithm plugs in each gimmick based on statistics, rather than having energetic flow with rises and falls.
The playability does not require much dexterity. Gaps between platforms or walls for wall jumping never demand utmost perfection at any point, and it becomes easy to zone out due to the lack of imagination put into the stage layouts.
The most thought put into the levels is how the designers went about hiding collectibles, which are obscured by walls that Flynn can walk through. The artists leave just enough of a visual cue that fake walls are not so obvious, but have enough suspicion about them that players won’t feel cheated or patronized.
Combat is the other core pillar of Flynn‘s gameplay, and it’s violently dull. The developers were trying to copy Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, but that game was much more flexible with canceling, and was more carefully balanced. It’s a telling coincidence that both protagonists are red heads and use red weapons, as well as copy the estus flask system from Dark Souls.
Flynn has a basic sword combo which is flashy and satisfying to crush foes with. He also has a very generous dodge roll that grants a lot of invincibility frames. All encounters play out the same; with Flynn smacking enemies around and dodging through enemy attacks or past the enemy itself.
This kind of basic attacking and waiting becomes tiring. This compounds on itself when the game begins its most heinous crime; locking Flynn in a room and only setting him loose when he kills a specific amount of mobs.
Son of Crimson is at its best when players are doing tricky platforming on disappearing Mega Man 2 style blocks; or rushing to the end of a gauntlet as a massive boulder smashes through a narrow tunnel, promising instant death.
As far as action platformers go, this is one of the easiest and is best suited for players who never played a game like this before. Between all of the powerful abilities Flynn acquires over the 10 hour adventure, almost nothing can stop him.
Giving him healing abilities was also a mistake due to how overpowered he is. There needed to be more thoughtful balancing to add a bit more excitement to the action and battles.
Early on Flynn gains a Devil Trigger-like rage mode, where his strength is multiplied, he can break guards, and attacks at inhuman speeds. He can’t get interrupted when he gets like this, and filling his rage meter is effortless and only requires successful hits on enemies.
The most unskilled gamers will trounce through all bosses when Flynn’s Devil Trigger gets pulled. His tacked-on ability tree can also further strengthen it, making him almost god-like when battling foes. Earning abilities is something the designers also failed to fine-tune, since there is an arbitrary gate to limit players from crafting specialty builds for unique play styles.
Magic is Fynn’s ranged abilities, and have more utility for the game’s puzzles than in combat. In battle, the ranged spells are too weak to be useful, and getting close enough to spam rapid-fire missiles is still nowhere near effective as bashing them over the head with an axe.
With charging speed upgraded, the spells are still not that useful, and still take a tad too long to fully charge. These magic abilities also have no cost, and can be infinitely used. Ironically, the combat abilities from the skill-tree cost rage from Flynn’s Devil Trigger meter. These are the more useful and fun abilities that can come into play far more often, but have a severe limit on them.
Instead of being able to have a huge supply of health restores, gamers should be able to put those jewels into buying up more rage capacity than the game currently allows. It does not take much to max out Flynn’s abilities, since the game constantly throws jewels at him and can be found everywhere and anywhere.
Dying or falling in combat just means a very minor jewel reduction. It’s a heals-measure approach to copying the soulslike formula, since Flynn doesn’t lose everything, because that might discourage game journalists. Flynn loses so little, that the penalty for failure is nonexistent.
The issues of losing jewels is exacerbated when all abilities are learned, and jewels stop having any function at all. It’s moments like this where the lack of conviction and imagination of the developers becomes all too apparent. Did there really need to be a soulslike failure mechanism? It does not add to the experience, and only serves as a distraction.
Instead of getting invested in Son of Crimson, all there is to see is that the developers are fans of popular games. Granted, the poor devils did their best and released a polished, bug-free game that looks beautiful.
For all its wasted potential, Son of Crimson is a nice looking indie action platformer. The pixel art style is appealing and lovingly crafted. There are lots of details in the background that breathes a lot of life into such a dull experience, that it almost elevates the game from being a total waste.
Characters have a anime-like design to them, but no weeb worth his salt will mistake Flynn as an actual game from Japan. The artists were so close, but they failed to have any kind of sex appeal in the female character designs. If the artists tried to capture that aspect of anime, they might have fooled us all. This is something that Momodora got right, and is all the more authentic because of it.
The art is technically sound and deftly realized, but much like the game design it’s lacking personality. Flynn is a boring character, and when the no-name NPCs in towns who have no dialogue are more interesting than the protagonist, it becomes hard to care about the hero’s journey.
The generic fantasy ambient music in the background is out of place in a anime-inspired chibi action platformer. It sounds beautiful and serene, but takes itself way too seriously in a game where the hero can go super saiyan. There needed to be some high energy and rocking tracks that arouse feeling of triumph and heroism, not the urge to take a nap.
There is a sense that a lot of the flaws of Flynn are due to the designers being indecisive. The early pre-release version on Steam was structured to be like a Metroidvania; but the game we got is level based where players select stages off a map like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Donkey Kong Country. Why the change? Was it a lack of vision or indecisiveness?
Flynn: Son of Crimson is likely to get swallowed up in the ocean of similar action platformers. It’s not a bad game, just a violently forgettable one. A dry piece of toast that sat out for too long, and has long since gone cold. Some players may find comfort with it, but most will be bored by it.
Flynn: Son of Crimson was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Humble Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.