This is a great little vertical slice alpha demo! If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a vertical slice demo is designed to show off various gameplay elements rather than showing off an area from the game. The demo for Flynn: Son of Crimson can be finished in under ten minutes, but it crams a whole lot of content into those few minutes. With four weapons, a utility item, standard action platforming, two enemy gauntlets, a stealth section, an auto-run section, and even a little bit of NPC interaction, not a single moment goes by without a new mechanic or technique being introduced.
Flynn begins with only his bow, though he soon acquires a sword as well. The bow serves as a subweapon of sorts, it’s usable regardless of which weapon is in your main hand, and its arrows have low damage with decent range, going about half the length of the screen. You are also able to charge your shots for a hefty damage boost and a slight range boost. Charging in the air will also allow Flynn to hover, making it easy to line up shots on aerial targets, though he will start to fall shortly after the charge is complete. I also noticed that your supply of arrows is marked with an infinity symbol; the Kickstarter page mentions having access to various elemental arrows and the presence of this supply counter confirms that at least some of the alternative arrows will be consumable.
As for the sword, it deals decent damage and has a fast combo as well as an upward slash move. It’s the type of all-around average weapon you would expect your default melee weapon to be. Like with the bow (and the remaining weapons for that matter), the Kickstarter page has information on additional abilities for the sword, but within the context of this demo it mainly serves to complement your other two main weapons.
An energy axe and a pair of claws are the other two weapons Flynn obtains and both function about how you might expect, with a few additional features. The axe is extremely slow and strong, making it the weapon I used the least in combat. That’s fine though because the axe has more utility than the sword outside of combat thanks to its ability to destroy barriers. The axe also has an overhead swing which serves both as a charged attack and as a way to destroy breakable floors, making it an essential tool for exploration.
The claws complete the combat trinity by being the fast, weak weapon of the group. I used them more than the axe, though I mostly stuck with the balanced range, damage, and speed of the sword. Like any good set of claws, you can use them to climb up and down certain walls, but that’s not all they’re good for. You can also perform a spinning tornado attack while the claws are equipped, which deals decent damage and burrows through certain vertical paths in the environment.
It’s also worth noting that you can cycle between these three weapons at any time, though there is a minor oversight within the demo before acquiring the claws. You can cycle to the right from the sword to the axe and back to the sword and you can likewise cycle left from the axe to the sword, but you can’t cycle left from the sword to the axe (cycling left works once the claws fill that space between the sword and the axe).
Beyond his weapons, Flynn has a few general abilities at his disposal. He has three healing charges which refill alongside his health whenever you activate a checkpoint statue. He is also able to grab onto ledges and the bottoms of thin platforms to pull himself up. There are plenty of platforms which Flynn can drop through as well, though I did think it was somewhat visually confusing that you can’t seem to drop through the thin bridge over water near the start despite it looking similar to the standard thin platforms. Last of all, Flynn has a dodge roll, which the demo makes good use of by placing ranged enemies at the end of sticky corridors which impede Flynn’s standard movement.
The combat system feels fluid overall with enough nuance between the weapons that most players will be able to find one which fits their playstyle. The dodge roll also felt good, giving you enough speed and distance to close the gap on ranged attackers and to avoid melee attacks. That said, one concern I have with the demo’s combat is the majority of enemies can be stunlocked. Aside from flying enemies and a tougher, shield-bearing opponent at the end of the second gauntlet, I was able to stunlock every enemy type from full to dead with my basic attack combo, even the fairly durable wolves. To its credit, the demo rarely tosses a lone melee fighter at you and the challenge posed by the various ranged enemies lies in getting to them in the first place, but all the extra attack options and weapon swapping felt rather pointless whenever only one enemy remained.
What about all the stuff outside of combat? Well, that utility item I mentioned is a grappling hook which you can use to latch onto various points and get a small upward boost at the end. Grapple points will glow when they’re within range and you simply need to press a button to make Flynn launch the grapple at them. It may not be the most innovative upgrade out there, but the grapple is nonetheless fun to use and gives a great sense of added mobility.
The weakest portion of the demo in terms of gameplay was the auto-running segment. For this part, Flynn rides on a gaint dog as he escapes from collapsing ruins. You can’t use your weapons, heal, or even move, but you can jump. You jump over goblins standing in front of you and jump to avoid attacks from wolf-riding goblins behind you and that’s really all there is to it. There’s not much to the dog section in terms of gameplay, but at the same time I think that might be fine as it’s meant to be more of a setpiece moment which caps off a successful adventure.
As for the stealth section, it was surprisingly fun. This takes place in a dark world on the other side of a portal you use to bypass a wall in the forest the rest of the demo takes place in. Invincible eyes are latched on to various surfaces and you must avoid their cone on vision either by hiding behind foreground elements or by waiting for them to blink before rushing through. There was enough variety to the stealth that it never felt stale and the penalty for getting spotted isn’t anything tedious; the eye turns red for a few seconds when it spots you and an enemy is spawned.
In fact, this dark world was varied up in a few ways in general, which is very good since I suspect it will pop up throughout the main game. Aside from the eyes, there are spider enemies, a creepy spider-spawning nest, and a pterodactyl carrying a gem. Light from the gem serves as the cone of vision for the pterodactyl, making it a sort of moving variant of the eyes, but the big difference is that, unlike the eyes, this enemy is not invincible and if it spots you it will directly start attacking rather than spawning in a weaker opponent. Considering how much stealth areas can bog down the gameplay in other action games, I was happy to see that getting caught only carries a relatively minor penalty with it, and a decidedly action-oriented one at that.
For all that this demo shows off, there are a few elements which are clearly absent. To be clear, this demo already contains more than I would have expected a short alpha demo to have and it’s only to be expected that a few elements would be missing from such an early demo, but I do think they deserve to be mentioned all the same. The most obvious thing is probably the lack of any sort of plot. The Kickstarter page contains a story synopsis, but this demo plops Flynn down in the middle of the forest and lets you start playing without any context (the sole NPC in the game exists to thank Kickstarter backers for reaching the funding goal).
Gems are another feature which doesn’t really come into play in this demo. You obtain gems from defeating enemies and opening a chest in the demo and they’re clearly this game’s form of currency, but there’s nothing to actually use them for. The climbing animation also looks like it’s not complete, Flynn sort of just drags one hand along the wall while clawing with the other, though overall the game looks very nice with subtle animations for many parts of the environment to bring the world to life.
The one area where the demo feels like it falls short is exploration. A lack of any sort of plot makes sense in a demo designed more for showing off features rather than for introducing players to the world and characters, but for a game where the description boasts of “non-linear exploration” this demo felt very linear and guided. It’s possible that the demo has a secret or two which I simply missed, though in that case I’d worry that any environmental clues might be a bit too subtle for their own good if they are meant to be indicative of standard secrets in the final product. As such it’s hard to get a feel for what the developer’s overall approach to level design will be in the full game even though the more linear design of the demo is solid.
This alpha demo for Flynn: Son of Crimson serves as a great example of just how effective a vertical slice demo can be. Short and compact, this demo gives potential supporters plenty of feedback concerning the standard combat and platforming they can expect as well as the various ways in which the game is willing to break away from its formula.