Recent years have seen the 2D platformer refreshed and revitalised thanks to an influx of incredibly talented indie developers, their games often bringing a unique mechanic to the table while ensuring movement, speed and accuracy are always at the forefront. Whether it's the mountainous odyssey of Celeste or the perpetual grind of Super Meat Boy, it’s a genre very much in vogue on Switch.
Flat Heroes might look like another generic entry with its mixture of basic colours and shapes, but beneath those right angles and primary colours lies a platformer with teeth that’ll chew you up if it finds you wanting. Its premise is simple, too - you play a square that must survive a series of geometric obstacles - but like all great twitch platformers, it the way in which that setup develops which makes the whole thing so compelling.
Each level takes place on a single square-shaped 2D arena. Platforms are arranged in various positions and it’s your job to outlive all manner of dangers in order to clear the level and unlock the next. Death is instantaneous, but then again so are respawns, facilitating the kind of rinse-and-repeat ethos that makes these kinds of games so rewarding to play (and eventually master). The Campaign is divided into ten worlds, each with fifteen levels (including a boss fight at the end) so you're getting a sizeable chunk of content in one mode alone.
As you progress you’ll encounter the myriad enemies Flat Heroes has to offer amid its simple colour palette. There are foes that fire projectiles in a straight line which are easy to dodge once you start using cover correctly, but then there are arrows that seek your position and eventually explode. When you’ve mastered those there are balls that break and divide into smaller ones every time they hit a surface, multiplying the danger. There are even ones that fire lines of random yet equally deadly webbing.
The joy is in discovering how to avoid each one. Some require you to treat platforms as shields, while others call for the careful use of your dash and double-jump abilities. This is where the developers behind Flat Heroes really nail the twitch platformer physics; you might just be a humble square, but you’ve all the movement speed you need to survive any encounter - if you're quick enough to read the situation.
You can dash in mid-air to avoid last-second collisions, bounce up the side of platforms to reach higher vantage points and even hug the side of a vertical platform for a moment’s respite. Later levels open up the ability to use a pulse that can be used to detonate nearby projectiles (or destroy friends when in one of its endlessly playable local multiplayer modes). Much like the design of its levels, these seemingly simple movements can be strung together into a symphony of acrobatic evasion - and you’ll need to do so when the game starts combining threats into a miasma of insta-death as early as the second world.
The bosses that cap off each world are also a treat to fight, often requiring you to string together the basics of your movement repertoire just to survive. Take the boss of world one - a dark circle that bounces around the screen with an alarming burst of acceleration. Keep avoiding its aggressive bursts of speed and it’ll smash one of its two shields - then, eventually, itself. It sounds so simple, but it’s only as easy in execution once you’ve learned to use the brief moments in between each speedy strike to recalibrate your position, using cover before it charges towards you again. These bosses are exhilarating to battle, and each one is tougher than the last.
Multiplayer also forms a key part of Flat Heroes, so much so that informs every mode in the game. You can play through the entire Campaign in drop-in/drop-out co-op with up to three other players, turning its square arenas into chaotic boxes full of geometric madness. The minimalist nature of the art style can make it difficult to track the action on-screen when you’re playing in tabletop mode with friends, so be sure to hook it up to your TV if you want to get the most out of couch play.
Outside of the Campaign, there’s a wave-based Survival mode to unlock (which can get really hairy the longer you endure) and the brilliant Versus mode. There are four minigames to play here - including Zones, Battle, Runner and Catch - and each one adds in a fresh twist to gameplay to get you zooming, pulsing and wall-clinging like a pro. Zones, the first mode you can access, places a timed circle inside the arena - the longer you spend inside it, the more you score. Think of it like an aerial take on the classic Domination formula, only with more aggressive shapes. There's no support for online play, but you can see this is clearly a multiplayer/co-op title that benefits from playing with a Joy-Con next to your mates.
Mixing the shapely looks of Thomas Was Alone with the speed of 10 Second Run Returns and the brutal difficulty of Super Meat Boy, Flat Heroes fits the Nintendo Switch like a glove. If you’re playing solo you’ve got a solid (and lengthy) Campaign as well as bot support for its mini-games, but it’s the electric excitement of the game's local multiplayer mode where Flat Heroes right-angled, platforming madness makes the biggest impact. Don’t be a square - get this in your digital collection right now.