Flat Heroes Is The Platformer I Was Looking For

“Why aren’t there more platform games?” was not a thought I ever expected to have, but it came to me as I was trawling Steam for something to play last week. The issue was that I wanted a platform game about movement and jumping, and there’s surprisingly few of those. Nearly everything I hadn’t yet played was more about shooting, or roguelike mechanics, or crafting. I had all but resigned myself to playing Super Meat Boy again when a friend linked me to Flat Heroes [official site]. I was convinced to try it by a GIF, and it was love at first jump.

Here’s the GIF:


(Technically I guess that’s a short video, not a GIF).

In Flat Heroes, you control a small square. The level is a larger square, normally with a few platforms dotted around, and in the game’s central Waves mode you must avoid different kinds of projectiles for a set amount of time in order to complete that level. This is very simple.

Yet it feels, looks and sounds so good. Your square moves by rolling, little lines blurring off your back to convey speed. Your jump, the distance of which you control by how long you hold the button, can be redirected in the air just enough to allow for finesse as you dance around the dozens of deadly objects hurtling your way. You can also dash short distances while airborne, walljump, or cling indefinitely to vertical surfaces by pushing towards them. This last move is enhanced by your being a square, as your flat side meet satisfyingly flush against the flat sides of the level.

Lastly – in Waves mode, anyway – you can release an extremely short-distance pulse that destroys nearby projectiles. This is useful because of the variety of projectiles you’re going to be avoiding: there are simple, Space Invaders-style bullets which form along the sides of the level and slide across; there are red, homing arrows which swim and swirl towards you; there are dots which only activate into homing missiles when you come near; and bubbles through which you can set off chain reactions by bursting one near the edge of a cluster. There are maybe a dozen others.

The game is smart in how it introduces these enemies. Waves is split up into worlds, with each world containing 15 levels, and each level introduces a new ability. Restarting after death is instant and so the game is free to throw something new at you in a level and let you learn through a quick couple of failures, and gradually each world ramps up the difficulty by throwing enemies at you in groups. The worlds then culminate in a boss fight, which often offers something completely different, for example an enemy which copies your movement but leaves a deadly snake tail behind itself. You destroy it by using your pulse to shatter weak points that appeal on the tail.

I don’t know how to write about these games without sounding like a weird fetishist, picking at details which never fully convey the sum of the game. None of what I’ve just written properly conveys how good Flat Heroes feels in your hands, because that feeling resides at the nexus of weight, speed, stickiness, responsiveness…

You can also play Waves with up to three other people in local multiplayer, but I’ve been playing it alone and it is still great. There are other modes which are all designed for 2-4 players, though there is AI available. In Zones, in which you must stay within a randomly appearing area of the level to run down your opponent’s clock; Battle, in which you must use your pulse ability to shatter your enemies; Runner, which lets you fire projectiles of your own in a squabble over an item that, when held, earns the holder points towards victory; and catch, in which a white object spawns randomly in the level and the first player to smash it earns the point.

I’ve put some time into each of the above modes, but the AI, while mostly competent, is a poor substitute for the jockeying and competition playing with friends might inspire. I say “mostly” competent because there are instances where the AI seems wholly inadequate and others where it is mega-adequate, and damn near impossible to beat. This seems to be based more on the level than the mode, so it’s possible to restart if you get a particular Catch level, for example, where your opponent can see, move to and smash the object in under a second.

There might be other modes, but if there are I haven’t unlocked them yet. The game’s early access status also means that there is potential for more to be added, depending on what areas of the game the community most want expanded. Personally, I’m currently happy with what the game offers, as the Waves mode gets hard enough by World 4 that I’ve yet to reach worlds 5 and 6. There are some bugs I’d like fixed, mind you, including better support for PlayStation 4 controllers.

I know my happiness will expire as soon as I complete the Waves mode, however. Flat Heroes, like Super Meat Boy before it, is a masterclass in game-feel – and that’s why there are so few games like it. There’s Super Meat Boy, there’s N++, and now there’s this. It feels good enough that, unless it turns out to be infinite in singleplayer, I’m going to be back on Steam in a few years looking for another game like it.

Flat Heroes is currently in early access for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam, with 4-12 months of further development planned depending on feedback.

From this site

8 Comments

Top comments

  1. Waltorious says:

    Graham, for more platformers in this vein (or rather, in the vein of Super Meat Boy / N, I haven't played this one yet!) you should look at the games Matt Thorson made before he made Towerfall. Give Up Robot and Give Up Robot 2 are platformers based around a grappling hook. Moneyseize is similar to Super Meat Boy but requires you to beat each level in several different ways in order to collect all 1010 coins. FlaiL is all about gravity flips and whatnot. An Untitled Story transplants tough platforming a la Super Meat Boy into a freely explorable world like the Metroid series. Even the older Jumper games offer some tough jump-based platforming, although the movement in those doesn't feel as good as his later games.

    For something rather different, take a look at Nimbus, which is not really a platformer but is all about movement. Your little flying craft cannot generate its own thrust, so it's all about using bumper pads and other things to gain altitude, then braving perilous high-speed dives through spike-filled corridors in order to maintain enough velocity to make a climb at the end (and much more besides).
  1. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Came here to mention N+, though I see that you talked about it at the end there. I also wanted to suggest ‘Splosion Man, though apparently that only ever came out for the xbox live arcade on the 360. That game was a move & jump platformer with a very bizarre sense of humor. I think that the sequel, Ms. Splosion Man made it onto Steam.

    • fabronaut says:

      I have Ms. Splosion Man on Steam.

      I didn’t like it as much as the original on the 360. I suppose it’s better suited for a couch game than how I likely played it — still with a controller, but on a monitor, as opposed to kicked back in front of a large HDTV.

  2. naam says:

    That’s no GIF…

    • naam says:

      (oosp)
      I guess GIF, by now, stands for a-short-looping-animation-without-sound? I see other image hosts doing the whole pretending-this-is-a-GIF-by-just-placing-the-word-in-the-image-but-loading-a-video-in-the-background thing. I assume it compresses a lot better, but it kind of annoys me.

      I’m more of a pretending-to-invent-words-by-just-dashing-them-together kind o’ guy.

  3. somnolentsurfer says:

    This was at Feral Vector a few months ago, and was easily the most talked about game of the festival. Constantly on the big screen, with a constant crowd, and cheers every time the players passed a difficult level.

  4. Waltorious says:

    Graham, for more platformers in this vein (or rather, in the vein of Super Meat Boy / N, I haven’t played this one yet!) you should look at the games Matt Thorson made before he made Towerfall. Give Up Robot and Give Up Robot 2 are platformers based around a grappling hook. Moneyseize is similar to Super Meat Boy but requires you to beat each level in several different ways in order to collect all 1010 coins. FlaiL is all about gravity flips and whatnot. An Untitled Story transplants tough platforming a la Super Meat Boy into a freely explorable world like the Metroid series. Even the older Jumper games offer some tough jump-based platforming, although the movement in those doesn’t feel as good as his later games.

    For something rather different, take a look at Nimbus, which is not really a platformer but is all about movement. Your little flying craft cannot generate its own thrust, so it’s all about using bumper pads and other things to gain altitude, then braving perilous high-speed dives through spike-filled corridors in order to maintain enough velocity to make a climb at the end (and much more besides).

    • Waltorious says:

      I should have mentioned that Nimbus is NOT by Matt Thorson, but by Noumenon Games, who I’ve only just now discovered are the same developers responsible for Snakebird, which I have not yet played.

      (Argh lack of edit button etc.)

    • Nixitur says:

      Here’s some more really good platformers.

      Cloudbuilt – It’s basically “What if parkour, but with a jetpack?” Sure, you do have a gun, but that’s not the focus of the game. It’s designed around speedrunning and very satisfying if you manage that A-rank (or S, if you’re amazing).

      Dustforce – You’re an extremely acrobatic janitor, parkouring around the level to clean up every bit of dust or debris in one combo. Run up walls, double jump, run on ceilings, it’s got it all.

      Fenix Rage – Looks quite similar to Super Meat Boy, but it’s different enough to deserve a spot. You’re capable of infinite flight and air dashes, so it’s a platformer with no need for platforms, but if you like your platformers fast and precise, you’re gonna have fun with this one.

      Freedom Planet – Did you like the 2D Sonics? Rocket Knight Adventures? This is that, but with multiple, very different playable characters and much better level design than many of the 2D Sonics, actually.

      Within A Deep Forest – No fancy wall- or double-jumping here, just a ball exploring an open world, trying to find all ten materials. Much less fast-paced than the games previously mentioned, but given that you’re a bouncy ball going through dangerous environments, it’s all about the movement and jumping. It’s also free like free beer.

      And if you don’t mind your platformers having a bit more combat, there’s also:

      They Bleed Pixels – Combines dashing, wall- and double-jumping with big claws with which to slash at fiendishly placed enemies. Probably one of my favorite platformers.