It could happen to anyone. One day you’re having a lovely morning enjoying the mundane lifestyle of 2142, the next you discover an alien race has infiltrated the human race and you’re downloading your own mind to a holocube before being captured and memory wiped by the very same species you were about to expose. Conrad B. Hart’s incredible journey first began development for the Mega Drive, but ended up debuting on the Commodore Amiga instead. A good 25 years later, Paul Cuisset’s 16-bit masterpiece is getting a new run on the Switch. Is it worth saving mankind again or should it all just remain a Flashback?
The game opens up with Conrad escaping captivity, and following a daring pursuit, the aliens shoot down Conrad’s hoverbike over the artificial jungles of Titan and presume him dead. A confused and amnesic Conrad stands up after the crash and this is where your epic science fiction journey begins. Your very first decision, however, is how you want to play. The original 1993 experience or the quality-of-life upgraded 2018 deluxe upgrade.
And by ‘upgrade’ we don't mean any sort of ‘enhanced remake’ - both versions are based on the most faithful recreation of the original game. These are the exact same rotoscoped characters moving through single screens of outstanding hand-drawn backgrounds you played a quarter of a century ago. The difference resides in the use of in-game tutorials, remade music and sound effects and a slew of different graphic filters that even simulate noise and static interference for anyone who was playing the game over an RF cable. It might sound silly for the younger generation of players, but veteran gamers will probably quite enjoy their inclusion. Of course, the game will always be displayed in a 4:3 ratio, the way it was originally designed.
Just like many of its 16-bit counterparts, you will find that even playing carefully, Flashback is often unforgiving, drawing parallels with Prince of Persia with small misjudged steps or jumps sending Conrad into an assortment of untimely demises. Unlike the Prince, Conrad carries a pistol with infinite bullets, but his rechargeable personal shield sadly isn’t. So you can not only die from poorly coordinated parkour, but also from shoot-outs with enemies.
In the original game that would equal an immediate loss of progress and return to the latest save point. But in this 2018 re-release you get the option to rewind your progress to a point before your fatal mistake. That being said, rewinding a flashback does feel a bit of a cheat. This is only unlimited if you chose to play in ‘Easy’ mode and, like every other extra, you can switch it on or off at any time during your playthrough. If you want to enjoy the original challenge, skip this modern-day luxury entirely.
The controls are the same as in the original, and will take a while to get used to the three-button scheme used in the Mega Drive version of the game. The D-Pad or the left analog let you move about; 'A' is your action button for running, jumping and interacting with on-screen objects; 'X' lets you use objects from your inventory (which you can open with '+') and 'Y' lets you draw or holster you mighty pistol. A word of caution: firing has been mapped to 'ZR' and we find ourselves succumbing to very silly deaths because we try to fire with the wrong button. Once your movement and shooting become second nature, you should find little frustrations on your quest to prevent the alien invasion.
There is little we can say about the graphics and sound that wasn't already written back in 1993: everything looks and sounds state of the art by '90s 16-bit standards and age does very little to steal any of Flashback's audio-visual merits. We can't even call them dated - if released today it might just be your next Nindie sensation. We will keep the locations a secret since we don't want to spoil any of the seven missions to people picking up the game for the first time.
Performance too is impressive – If you were fearing this was some sort of Super Nintendo ROM emulation port (a version which is sadly remembered for hitting single-frame digits during shoot-outs in the final stretch of the game) rest assured this is one smooth, 24fps game from start to finish. We do hope a quick patch is soon in the pipeline: while using the new enhanced sounds we discovered that every third shot fired from your gun is muted, as if you're firing a blank instead of a replicant-stopping round one would expect. Nothing but a little smudge in an otherwise excellent package.
Flashback on Switch is the definitive edition of a truly special science fiction platform/puzzle solving/shooting video game that already more than proved itself to be a 16-bit classic. If you were too young to play this the first time, this package will give you the best possible way to experience it with current hardware. For veteran gamers, Flashback has lost nothing of what made it special all those years ago. Pass the holocube, please.