One of the hardest things for small development studios is trying to turn a simple concept into a noteworthy game. On one hand they can get too complicated and then ultimately bogged down in development because of a lack of resources. No matter how much a studio believes in a project that doesn’t mean they have the ability to do it. But on the other hand a lot of studios go in the opposite direction and make games that are too simple. Today thousands of virgin games are churned out much faster than they should have been, often leading to low quality games for one reason or another.
The best indie games are the ones that walk the line between simple and complicated. A great example of a studio that’s currently finding the balance is Fat Panda Games. They’re currently developing their first game, Flat Kingdom. What I love about this game is that it’s simple yet has depth. While it’s still a long way from being finished, the beta is currently available online and I’m glad I gave it a try.
I really like the graphics in Flat Kingdom. Fat Panda Games describes it as 2.5D. They remind me a lot of Katamari. In a lot of ways the graphics are an integral part of the plot because the Flat Kingdom is supposed to be flat, but is being transformed into 3D. This is done well visually through the use of mostly flat surfaces that have been connected along the edges at different angles in order to make polygonal shapes that appear to be 3D, but really aren’t. In many other games you might say this was an example of bad graphics, but in Flat Kingdom they are extremely appropriate.
There are a range of colours used throughout the demo which adds so much to the world. Levels have both day and night areas which change the feeling of the environment mid-play. Creatures look similar to the landscape in their polygonal, while still flat, style, but they use even more vibrant colours than the basic grass, trees, and rocks of the landscape. The only thing that doesn’t agree with the rest of the art style is the water, but that’s forgiveable and it still looks good even if inappropriate.
People, of which only 3 have actually been shown so far, look much flatter than the rest of the world. They seem more like a series of stacked flat images than polygons. Almost as if they are made out of construction paper. Flatman is one of a kind in this game though. He is a completely flat figure that you can see right through. He’s more like a ghost with an outline, nose, and eyes. He has no arms and can transform into a circle, triangle, or square.
The animations in Flat Kingdom look very good at this point. There is little lag in the movement of in game objects. Flatman’s transformations between shapes are basically seamless and his walking animations look good too. This game probably has the simplest looking, but most interactive life bar I have ever seen. It’s simply 8 2D shapes, 1 for each hit, that change shape in real time with Flatman. When you change from triangle to square so does the life bar.
The animations in Flat Kingdom look very good . . .
The only real issue I have with the graphics is that there is a real lack of consistency among creatures. Some look much more 3D than others. Now this is easily justified by the plot with the argument that some animals have been affected by the 3D more than others at this point, but it is quite noticeable. Overall I’d say the graphics are quite good though and work very well for the plot and style of gameplay.
The gameplay in Flat Kingdom is ingeniously simple. All you can do is move left and right, jump, and transform. You can even do all of these things at the same time if you wish. Such a simple gameplay scheme is nothing to be unhappy about though because there’s a huge number of variations in how this can be used to solve a large number of puzzles.
You have 3 interchangeable shapes/forms: circle, triangle, and square. Each has different strengths, weaknesses, and uses. The circle form, which is the default form, is the lightest giving it the ability to jump the highest, float in water, and move at an average speed. The square is the heavy form. It’s very slow and sinks in water. It can’t jump high and has limited mobility, but it’s very powerful. The triangle form is the sharp form. It can move the fastest, but often over-runs because of it. It can jump an average height, but can leap a greater distance than the circle.
Each of the 3 shapes must be used interchangeably in order to progress through the game. Sometimes 2 shapes are required in order to get past obstacles and solve puzzles. An example of this would be a large gap from a high ledge. You would need to use the circle to reach the ledge and then the triangle to clear the gap. Transformations are instant with the touch of either of 2 buttons. Transforming goes in order so each button controls a direction in which to transform.
The battle system is very simple, but creative for a platformer. Fat Panda Games describes it as a rock-paper-scissors system where circle beats square, square beats triangle, and triangle beats circle. Throughout the game you will see different types of enemies that resemble 1 of the 3 shapes. You defeat them by making contact with them using the shape they’re weak to in the chain. Some enemies have a shape floating above them to signify their type. This is very helpful because some enemies are hard to read. When you make contact with a normal enemy they die instantly, but there are some enemies that require multiple shapes to defeat. These enemies require multiple hits in a specific order which is clarified in the demo as well with the same floating signifiers.
The boss in the demo doesn’t have any signifiers, but does resemble other smaller enemies which are the clue to helping you figure out how to defeat it. It is as much a puzzle as it is a test of your mobility and use of transformations.
For the most part I was very happy with the gameplay and noticed only minor lag occasionally, but it varied from play to play so it may very well have been my connection or my laptop. Movement and transformation were very clean. I did notice a number of inconsistent moments between plays though and this was quite a problem. The best example of this was the boss fight. Defeating it has to be done in a specific way that makes use of multiple shapes, but the way it reacted to hits was never the same. Sometimes it would go down very quickly and other times it wouldn’t go down at all even after multiple hits. The fact that there is no life bar for bosses is a real problem because you have no idea if you are making any progress at all especially when enemies are not taking damage the way they should.
This was also the case with respawning. You always get all your life back, but you don’t always respawn in the same place(s). There are unmarked checkpoints which is fine, but even when you die in the same area you don’t always come back in the exact same spot. Currently you don’t have a limited number of lives so it’s only a slight issue, but the overall lack of consistency needs to be fixed.
. . . a number of inconsistent moments between plays . . .
The only other real issues I had with the game was concerning taking damage. When you get hit by an enemy you get thrown back automatically regardless of how you were hit or how the enemy was moving. You also get no period of invincibility after taking damage so you often get spam damage if you are caught between multiple enemies. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that you get thrown back when you take damage. You also sometimes get multi-tapped by the same enemy when you touch it from certain angles. I was really unhappy with the fact that you often take damage when you deal it. This happened to me quite a lot during the boss fight and would have been completely unacceptable if you didn’t have all your life returned to you when you first enter the boss fight.
I’d give the gameplay a C+ overall as far as quality because of the many inconsistencies, but an A for the concept. I believe that once it has reached its final stages of development Flat Kingdom will provide a much cleaner gameplay experience and it’s for that reason that I am comfortable endorsing this game. It’s currently ok, but has the potential to be quite good.
For a browser beta I have to say that I was very impressed with the sound. It’s quite strong and high quality. Laptop speakers are just fine for the full experience. The music and effects are quite clear. You probably won’t even need your computer at full volume.
The sound effects are good for what’s there, but there needs to be more. There are effects for jumping and changing form. Certain enemies have their own sound effects as well, but not all of them do. The effects are very appropriate, while remaining quite simple, but they are lacking in variety. There’s no sound for moving, jumping into water, or for killing certain enemies. I found it odd that there’s a sound for surfacing in water but not entering it.
My biggest problem with the sound effects was their lack of consistency. Sometimes things make a sound and sometimes they don’t. This includes most things in the game whether it be killing enemies, jumping, or going into water. Sometimes you hear sound effects and sometimes you don’t.
The music is well chosen. It’s got a very 90’s platformer feel. There are continuous beats that play and change based on your current location. There are normal level tracks as well as a boss track at this point. When you die the track pauses for a second and then continues when you respawn. The light-hearted feel of the level tracks works very well with the graphics and gameplay style in Flat Kingdom.
Currently I’d give the sound in this game a B-. It’s high quality and properly chosen, but inconsistent, lacking in variety, and not used everywhere that it needs to be.
While the demo doesn’t really give you much in terms of writing, the crowd fund campaign helps to fill in the blanks. The story of Flat Kingdom is one of a classical Nintendo style platformer. The peace of the Flat Kingdom is in peril because a thief has kidnapped the princess and magical artifacts that will drive the world into chaos. This has caused the land to begin changing from 2D to 3D and causing the usually peaceful animals of the kingdom to become aggressive. The great king who was once the hero of the Flat Kingdom has called upon Flatman to recover the princess and artifacts in order to save the land. Of course Flatman is the only being unaffected by 3D and thus is the perfect hero for the adventure.
At this point, the only in-game information you get is during the tutorial. Characters talk to you through text boxes. While it was merely the tutorial text, I was very happy with the writing. The dialogue was concise, but had personality and implied that there was a lot more depth to this world, pun not intended, than the rest of the demo lets on.
Currently I can’t say much about replay value based on the demo. There are a few alternate paths you can take and a couple ways to get past certain obstacles, but for the most part there’s no reason to play more than once at this point. There are no collectibles and while the crowd fund page says that they hope to add bonus areas, extra levels, and a new game plus mode, currently these things are not available so I can’t comment on them. I will say that the game is planned to have special abilities and upgrades that must be unlocked and chosen so assuming there are multiple choices and limited points there may be a reason to replay the game a few times to experience everything. But I’m speculating based on limited information.
Flat Kingdom is projected to have 6 worlds of a large size containing at least 2 bosses in each. Fat Panda Games also hopes to add an extra chapter and a new level if they meet their crowd funding goals. The current release price is estimated to be $15. I am not able to decide on whether or not this is a fair price because I have no idea how long the game will ultimately be or if it will have any replay value at this point, but I will say that you can complete the demo which includes a day section, a night section, and 1 boss in under 10 minutes.
Flat Kingdom is currently projected to release in Spring of this year so it’s still a few months off and can stand to have a number of things fixed and added. But I really like the general concept, the graphics, the working gameplay, the music, and the plot synopsis so far. It’s a complicated game in a simple box and in a lot of ways that’s better than the reverse which is much more common these days. I’m really looking forward to playing the final product and I encourage you to support Fat Panda Games in their quest to complete this game.
Flat Kingdom will be released for both PC and Mac. The free beta demo is currently available to play in your browser here so you should definitely give it a whirl.