• Human Fall Flat review - Nintendo Switch

    The Switch is quickly becoming the platform of choice for many Indie developers. Nintendo have clearly caught on to the fact that the bedroom coder is making a comeback, and with growing cynicism surrounding many AAA releases and their funding models, Indie developers have begun to pick up the slack with a dazzling amount of titles appearing across major platforms. Human Fall Flat is developed by No Breaks Games and released back in 2016 for the PC. Its success meant the team has joined other indie studios in bringing their wares over to the Switch. How does it hold up in this increasingly-crowded market?

    Human Fall Flat is a puzzle platformer with the emphasis being firmly on its physics system. Physics-based games can often be hit-and-miss with inventive physics not necessarily translating into improvements in gameplay. One clear example of this is Sumo Digitalís Snake Pass. That game executed its concept extremely well in that it realistically captures how the body of a snake would feel like to move and how the body would respond to real-world physics. At the same time, it also demonstrated why how such realism can translate into a frustrating and unintuitive game to actually play. There was a sense that the game attempted to reinvent the wheel and would have been a less frustrating experience had the developers stuck with traditional controls.

    Thankfully, it becomes clear that Human Fall Flat manages to avoid similar issues. You control a customisable character where you have control over both the left and right arms independently, which completely changes the way that your characters interact with objects, be they buttons that need to be pressed or carts that have to be pulled. This independent control of the limbs requires players to think a bit differently about how they tackle the various puzzles. In general, it's in direct contrast to the vast majority of games where character actions and reactions are scripted - what your characters do is directly related to player actions within the physics system, for better or worse. This extends beyond the characters to the world itself, with objects in the world responding similarly. This can range from trains that can be pushed or pulled to destroy walls, catapults that throw your human across the level, or hooks that can be used to swing across chasms. These all follow the same unscripted physics system as the character itself.

    The game is spread across a series of stages which increase in difficulty and complexity as you progress. The initial stages serve to help players get to grips with the various things which their character can do, aided by witty and amusing tutorials powered by in-game remote controls which the character picks up and display rather funny explanations of the mechanics. The game does a good job of introducing players to the various abilities of their character without the player consciously feeling like they're slogging through a tutorial stage and are given plenty of opportunity to practice controlling their character before hitting the more challenging stages. And they certainly do become more challenging, requiring players to think outside the box regarding how use to objects within the world to interact with the environment. Players of Valveís Classic Portal will have a good idea to expect in terms of approaching problems. Later stages require players to not merely look at what is blocking their path, but to examine the stage as a whole to figure out how the various mechanisms in the stage lead to a solution.

    Overall it is one of the better examples of physics-based games, but it is not entirely immune to the shortcomings that have plagued its contemporaries in the genre. For example, simply climbing onto a ledge can be frustrating due to lack of scripted character actions putting all focus on the character's arms. You grab the ledge with both arms, and need to pull yourself up onto the ledge using those same arms whilst not letting go of the edge of that same ledge (otherwise you will fall). This leads to players having to contort their characters into unnatural , twisted positions just to pull off the feat of climbing onto a ledge without moving arms; then only for your character to slide back off the ledge even after successfully climbing it as releasing limbs can result in throwing your character off-balance. This is a direct result of the physics system and perhaps its appeal, but can be frustrating. It is perhaps for this reason that the game comes into its own in co-op mode, as you can at least take pleasure from your partnerís amusing mismanagement of their character. Coop is indeed where the game shines, those difficult challenges being somewhat easier to overcome as a team effort, and if one person has progressed, leaving you behind, you can just jump off the world to catch them up. Little things in the game are suddenly seen in a new, humorous light once there are two of you to enjoy the action. You can work together, but nothing stops you from just tossing them off the side of the level into the sky if their incompetence becomes too much. You can choose to be equally as much a pain in the arse as a help, which makes for some hilarious experiences when coupled with the sometimes nonsensical physics. As a solo game, like many physics-based games, you suspect that it might be more fun to watch other people attempt to play the game rather than getting to grips with the physics yourself. Ultimately however, the challenges associated with playing the game do result in extreme satisfaction once you crack each puzzle. The knowledge that your character is doing exactly as you are telling it within its own system means there is a real sense of accomplishment even when completing simple tasks such as reaching a difficult ledge or manipulating an object correctly.

    Human Fall Flat is one of the best examples of physics-based games. Its appeal goes beyond its system with excellent, well thought-out stages which will be a joy to play for anybody looking for challenging puzzles with logical solutions. Players with short tempers should take more than a couple of deep breaths when trying to get their character to pull off what they might expect them to be able to, but it's worth persevering because this is a charming little game.
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