The underlying concept of Flat Kingdom’s gameplay is really neat: you control a character that can’t directly attack enemies, but by changing shapes, it can counter their attacks and defeat them. Unfortunately, due to bad hit detection, confusing art design and unbalanced difficulty, Flat Kingdom never quite takes off.
Set in a two dimensional world that’s facing the perils of a villain set on bringing an extra dimension into the mix, it’s up to plucky hero Flat to set things right, a journey that takes him to a variety of cutely designed papercraft-like levels and toe to toe with bosses. Along the way, he unlocks new powers that play with the three shapes he can turn into, such as hurling himself diagonally like a shuriken, allowing him to stick to walls as a triangle, or propelling forward like a square bulldozer in order to break special walls along the way.
While not necessarily vital to anything other than the few times in which they come in handy, mostly to get rid of specific obstacles, the next tier of powers, which come by at the tail end of the game, are put to good use as you’re forced to go back and explore previous areas again, much like a classic Metroid game, in order to reach previously unreachable parts of levels.
It can be said that Flat Kingdom’s charm lies in its simplicity, but even so, there have been games in the past that have done a much better job at conveying simplicity through tight design and polish. Flat Kingdom feels kinda messy in both of these aspects. For as much as its main gameplay mechanic is clever, that is, changing shapes to counter enemies, it’s never quite clear just what the actual shape of these foes is. Sure, some of them actually make some visual sense by literally displaying a square, circle or triangle, like most of the bosses, but most of the time, I found myself just guessing and hoping for the best.
And then there’s the game’s shaky hit detection, which never quite gives you an idea of whether or not you’re taking damage from an enemy, other than having Flat blink, or worse, if you’re doing the one doing the pummeling. More often than not, it’s best to just run into and past them, regardless of if you kill them or not, since collision is nearly non-existent, save for the boss fights, which are another matter.
Those fights are creative in concept but lack in actual play mechanics, with most of them basically boiling down to a one on one bout against a three-hit health bar creature, with the exception of one fight in particular where you face off against three separate entities. That encounter in and of itself has its own set of issues, thanks to the limitations in how each of the bosses act — that is, they all follow the same boring movement and attack patterns. But only now, instead of each having their own health bar, they all share three ticks that must be knocked out before you can defeat them.
What’s somewhat interesting and clever aspect of the game is the fact that you’re actually forced to actively engage with the aforementioned ‘unreachable part of levels’ mechanic after acquiring all of Flat’s powers in order to actually reach the final encounter and beat the game. Sure, we’ve all seen something similar in games that are built around that mechanic as means to pad out their running time by placing less than vital collectibles in all sorts of nooks and crannies.
Flat Kingdom, however, has you combing previous levels in search of individual parts of the key to open up the final stretch of the game. The neat bit is that there are practically no clues as to the specific spots in the stages where these things are located, other than an indicator on the world map. If you’ve paid attention while playing the game, you’ll probably remember a place or three, especially considering that Flat Kingdom isn’t that long of a game at all.
All things considered, Mexican developer Fat Panda’s Flat Kingdom — which is now being sold under the cute, playful name of Flat Kingdom Paper’s Cut Edition that comes with new downloadable content and bonuses — is a worthwhile, charming as all heck, albeit flawed platformer that doesn’t overstay its welcome, not to mention a papercraft beauty to look at.