The Nintendo Switch has been poured on top with indie love since its inception. Everything from ports to original releases, indies have led the way for Nintendo’s newest console, and rightly so. The hybrid console and handheld deserves the support not only because of its audience’s willingness to try new things, but also because indie snacks are perfect for the Switch. Games you can pick up and put down easily are the stars of the console, and The Flame in the Flood is an addition to this. Released last year (thanks to its successful Kickstarter) to mixed results on everything but the Switch, The Flame in the Flood flew under the radar. A survival game placed in the center of a human-less flood disaster and one that sees our main character trying to live amongst wolves and warthogs. The game is a carbon copy of other games in the survival sub-genre, albeit with some interesting diversions from the common course. Instead of trying to make itself a serious replication of reality, The Flame in the Flood chooses to bring an arcade-like feel to its survival elements. This makes for a game that is just as easy to die in as it is to pick up and play.
Starting in The Flame in the Flood’s campaign leaves two options immediately: the tougher survival mode or the easier mode. My most useful tip: go for the easier mode. The Flame in the Flood is an unforgiving, torturing game, and learning its complex logic is a difficult enough task with save states and abundant supplies; without them it is almost impossible. Making those initial moments harder on yourself can be the death of your enjoyment with The Flame in the Flood as dying is an essential part of learning how to play, yet in a campaign where you work to survive by collecting valuable gear, this can be frustrating if it happens often.
After making that initial choice, players set out in an adventure rich in depressive situations and sparse amounts of content in the situation our main character has found herself in. That second point is vital; though The Flame in the Flood might seem huge, its environments were repeated throughout my several playthroughs. As you adventure into what seems like a common survival game, The Flame in the Flood differentiates itself by offering tidbits of sailing sections. These thirty to forty second mini-games see you hop onto a rickety raft and take to the river, trying not to damage your makeshift boat. By managing your several stats (temperature, nutrition, hydration, and fatigue), this island-hopping gameplay serves to stress the player out by making these stats all heavily impact your success, and they will. Going to these islands and managing those stats becomes something of a chore rather than a challenge.
Too many times during this game I found myself redoing the same moments over and over again. That’d normally be okay, after all, developers Molasses Flood boast their game as a rogue-like, but it needs a lot more variety if it wants to be a fun one. Common tricks like random generation and dynamic gameplay twists make other rogue-likes feel fresh every time you play them. The Flame in the Flood does exactly the opposite. Upon exploring the first few hours of the game, I learned that nothing really changed when I eventually died and returned to the watery world I once inhabited. The same level of loot would be near the start, and the better loot would be tucked near the end. The beasts would inhabit islands, and nothing else would occur other than me leaving the island and moving to the next.
This gets even worse when speaking about environments as certain types of islands were just repeats of themselves with slight variations. Things like log cabins, school buses, or boat fixing harbors were all featured in a particular category of islands, and these islands would then be repeated ad nauseam. This created a survival game which was less concentrated on discovery and new things to do and more on mastering the little bits it has there. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff it has is okay, but I can only craft the same stuff in the same areas so many times before eventually getting bored. This is the problem with The Flame in the Flood; it doesn’t quite know what it is. If it’s a rogue-like, then the gameplay should be more focused on quick replays and several ways to progress. If it’s a survival game, then the gameplay should be more indicative of an experience rooted in the mechanics of discovery and difficulty in crafting combinations. Overall, the gameplay loop of The Flame in the Flood disappointed big time, and that was its biggest fault.
Other than this, Molasses Flood did a great job at crafting the feel of the game. The desolate landscapes accompanied only by relics of a world overrun with animals and a strong river, the cute moments your character has with your dog, and the endlessly foot tap-inducing indie folk music made The Flame in the Flood an adventure worth enduring, despite the shaky gameplay. Not only that, but the sound design is terrific as well. Every shriek the crows made shook my soul. Every wave in the river made me pick up some water in thirst. Every gut-wrenching sound my character made as she was ripped apart by a wolf scared me half to death. It was a well rounded technical achievement, albeit with the few glitchy animations and rough edges that I expected from such a small team. The Flame in the Flood might be contained by the physically small Nintendo Switch, but its ability to make use of the console for these technical achievements made my time in this brutal land all the better.
The Flame in the Flood is an interesting conundrum for me. It’s a game I wouldn’t necessarily recommend immediately and surely isn’t anywhere near one of the best games of the year. But something about it screams perfection for the Nintendo Switch-only owners, meaning if you have no other console, The Flame in the Flood is perfect for you. It’s something you can dig into, not put much commitment to, and put back down without feeling guilty that you forgot about it at all. Then after thinking hard, I decided this wasn’t a good hallmark for a game to have. A forgettable experience is just that: a forgettable experience. No matter what system the game is on, I have to judge it compared to everything out there. That being said, The Flame in the Flood lacks in areas other games have already perfected, and it feels like a step in the wrong direction for survival games and rogue-likes combined.
Developer: Molasses Flood
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 12th October 2017 (Nintendo Switch)