So when I made my list of games to try and play in 2019 our good friend @BLUE_BLACK_PURPLE took the time to warn me that Flashback kinda sucks, to which I responded that it might but I’ve put off playing it for a decade now and I just have to know.
With that said… I finished it up earlier today and while suck is perhaps too strong a word it ain’t exactly all that good. I can see how certain things it did being more novel when it released 25 years ago. The story is a pastiche of Total Recall, They Live and a bit of Running Man, but there weren’t exactly a ton of games in that mold back then. An entire chapter had a bunch of rpg-like side quests you had to complete to earn money, which would have likely blown my mind/confused me deeply back then.
None of that is really that noteworthy now sadly, and I think the game’s biggest sin is sometimes trying to do more standard gameplay bits within the confines of a cinematic platformer and it just isn’t a great idea. Of that era in that micro-genre I think Out of This World and Prince of Persia stand above the others, mainly because both of them tweaked what they asked of the player to be more in line with the… I hate to say laggy controls, let’s say deliberate. If Prince of Persia asked you to make your way through a Mario level it’d probably be a disaster, so it didn’t.
Flashback sometimes remembers that, but on enough occasions it just asks too much. The main offender is probably combat, and I say this having played through the game on easy because I’m not a sadist. There really isn’t a way to smoothly attack especially up close, and in cramped quarters you really just lack any decent way to deal with this. There were battles where using the same exact approach from the exact same spot I would escape being hit only once, or being hit five times and dying.
It has a pretty alright art direction though. You get some nice alien locales eventually. The animations have that rotoscoped flavor and you get a ton of random 16 bit cutscene animation at the end of each level and oddly enough whenever you pick up or hand over an item. For me that is a positive, YMMV.
So yeah, it is an interesting enough game to revisit and when it stays out of its own way (again, play on easy as all it does is reduce the number of enemies and they are the weakest part) while never outright good it is okayish enough. It just fucks up just frequently enough to drag it down to being subpar. I can see a theoretical version of the game where a handful of setpieces were either altered or dropped and it making a legit difference.
Also since someone asked I always heard that the Genesis version was better than the SNES one (oh yeah, there is notable slowdown in the SNES version), although one of the original computer versions is supposed to be the best one.