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Review: Flashback (Nintendo Switch)By Insanoflex At 03.07.2018 21:34

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What does it mean to be called a "CD-ROM game on a cartridge"? For Flashback in 1992 it meant that it was capable of displaying what can be best described as an animated cut-scene. In its day, having scenes like this peppered throughout the adventure was thought to be impossible on cartridge-based consoles like the Mega Drive. Games like Another World and the Donkey Kong Country trilogy and, of course, Flashback: The Quest for Identity, were some of the few 16-bit console games to be able to get away with this kind of marketing and it was because of how these games looked. Flashback, especially, since so few 16-bit games then had animated cut-scenes. Right when it first boots up, there's a wobbly and obviously rotoscoped chase scene with flying motorcycles and laser guns. It is quaint by today's standards, but rarely do even mid-level developed indie games dare to have animations of this scale. One thing that must be mentioned is just how ugly everything looks when playing with the anti-aliasing mode on. This crime against humanity clumsily rounds off all the pixel's edges in a way that the game's designers did not intend. The effect looks cheap - go into the settings menu, turn it off, and never look back.

The presentation and pixel animation is what always made Flashback stand out from the competition and that still holds true today. Conrad moves very fluidly and lifelike thanks to artists painstakingly rotoscoping live people to give him a lot of humanity. This can make the game feel very sluggish at times, especially since there are moments where there will be some time pressure and a lot of threats that need to be dispatched. To make things fair, even the enemies are animated in the same way, which gives people some time to react. The graphics look amazing and hold up beautifully to this day. In this 25th Anniversary edition, some visual features like a phosphorous glow and scanlines can be added to mimic the effects of a CRT display. So long as the ugly anti-aliasing filter is toggled off, these effects breathe a lot of life into the imagery and add to the cyberpunk flavour. There is even a hilarious tracking effect to give the impression that the game is running off a console with a poor antenna connector installed to a poor TV. It is totally useless and distracting but amusing to play with for a little while.

After getting used to the controls in Flashback, it becomes very easy to slip into the role of Conrad Black. This cyberpunk story cribs liberally from several cult sci-fi movies of its time. The plot revolves around a man discovering a secret and having to erase his own memory while following the clues he left himself to follow to rediscover the secret to expose the threat, basically being his own Manchurian candidate. It takes plot elements from Total Recall, They Live, and even The Running Man - mixing them all up into a Heavy Metal Magazine style art direction. The quest for Conrad's identity will have go through all sorts of locations that will involve have all sorts of things to do in order to progress like having to do odd jobs for money to buy some forged papers. At one point, Conrad will find himself in a gauntlet of battle arenas to fight for a prize so he can leave Earth with everything culminating with an epic space battle.

This really is not like most adventure platformers where it has players deal with various linear challenges. Flashback uses many of the core design pillars found in point-and-click adventure games while using many of the mechanics seen typically in games like Another World. There is more emphasis on finding key items and trying to infer where to use these esoteric tools in this strange science-fiction dystopia. It is not too hard to understand it after the initial learning curve - things click and the quest moves along at a clip. Some parts may drag, like when Conrad has to go get a job at the job centre, which has a vibe to it that is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, but ultimately they are worth it for the sake of comedy. There is something profoundly amusing about Conrad being shuffled around and being forced to endure a redundant bureaucratic system that is needlessly long. Having to figure these things out, with no on-screen indicators, really does help get those in control immersed in the setting.

Flashback: 25th Anniversary on Switch is very proud of its 16-bit origins. This was a title that was mostly played on the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive (SEGA Genesis, in the US) platforms and this updated re-release is content with reminding everyone who plays it. Much like its original release in the early '90s, Flashback on Switch still has its unconventional control scheme that takes some getting used to. This is likely going to put off a lot of people who will play this for the first time and, to be fair, it is unusual that there is no new control option available for the more new-school users. Unlike most cinematic or "step-based" platformers, this one has a contextual action button that does many things. It can make Conrad run, it can also make him fire his weapon, and it can even be used to operate lifts or even for jumping. This control scheme really does not make much sense on a Switch Joy-Con and the lack of options is regrettable. This lack of remapping or alternate set-up is going to be a hefty barrier for many people who cannot adjust. Conrad already is overly animated and needs time and some planning for all his actions, so having a strange control mapping (even for its day) won't help people appreciate Flashback.

There are several different difficulties to play and all of them are hard. Flashback is from that special time when completing a game was a real accomplishment. The Switch port tries to give the average modern day gamer some leeway in order to accommodate some of the high challenge in the form of a rewind feature. It can only be used after dying and has a usage restriction on the higher difficulty modes. This feature is likely what will keep average people playing who might find some of the gameplay a bit too spicy. This was also a game that relied on save points that were always at fixed locations, so there are no automatic checkpoints or autosaves here. Without relying on the rewinding, expect to reload the last save.

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It's clear why [i]Flashback: The Quest for Identity[/i] was only popular in its day. Some aspects of it make it inaccessible to the regular Joe, like the unusual control scheme and sometimes cryptic gameplay that rarely explains itself. This [i]25th Anniversary[/i] makes efforts to try to make it more palatable to modern gamers but it did not really try where it was suppose to - like making an alternate control scheme. This is going to be the biggest barrier for most and only those who are willing to take the time to adjust are going to get the most out of [i]Flashback[/i]. This is a very rare approach to what has become a saturated sub-genre of platformer thanks to how it is uncompromising with how it dumps people into a futuristic setting and explains nothing, while expecting people to figure it out by themselves. It is a very refreshing adventure game that is dense with content and things to do. The world feels so alive with an almost fetishistic attention to detail. It is clear why it fell into obscurity, but it is very obvious why it was so amazing when it came out. Anyone willing to give [i]Flashback: 25th Anniversary[/i] the time will not be disappointed.



User Comments
#1 RudyC3 - on 04.07.2018 at 10:59

It's a shame that being an anniversary edition it doesn't include some of the specific features of specific past versions as options, such as the FMV sequences of the CD based adaptations released a couple years after that were on the Mega-CD version (albeit grainy) and ... off the top of my head I think there was a 3DO version too withh those FMV in better quality? I could be wrong on the latter.

#2 Insanoflex - on 04.07.2018 at 23:38

RudyC3 said:
It's a shame that being an anniversary edition it doesn't include some of the specific features of specific past versions as options, such as the FMV sequences of the CD based adaptations released a couple years after that were on the Mega-CD version (albeit grainy) and ... off the top of my head I think there was a 3DO version too withh those FMV in better quality? I could be wrong on the latter.

id like a version to choose between a white, black or red t-shirt.

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