Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: XBox, PS Store, PC/Steam
Developer: No Brakes Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
Website: Official Website
Bob is just a normal human with no superpowers, but given the right tools he can do a lot. Misuse the tools and he can do even more!
The world of Human: Fall Flat features advanced physics and innovative controls that cater for a wide range of challenges. Bob’s dreams of falling are riddled with puzzles to solve and distractions to experiment with for hilarious results. The worlds may be fantastical, but the laws of physics are very real.
Will you try to open that mysterious door, or would you rather see how far you can throw a speaker set out the window?
Human: Fall Flat is most certainly a puzzle platformer. There are lots of puzzles, and lots of platforms to jump between, over, and shimmy around. It doesn’t, however, control like any puzzle platform game I’ve ever encountered. Forget the precision of the recently released Super Mario Odyssey, this takes you into the opposite direction of fighting the controls for minimal gains. What seemed at first to be a clumsy, stumbling, drunken buffoon of a character, slowly develops a skill set that requires practice, patience and most certainly persistence. You see, the awkward movement of your character is one of the challenges to overcome. Deliberately holding you back from seemingly easy everyday tasks in order for you to feel truly accomplished at completing a difficult section of a level, and to revel in the hilarity that often occurs at simple lapses of concentration.
Controlling Bob is not easy. The Left Analogue Stick moves him around the 3D environment in a shambling, half-drunken zombie gait. Slow and steady is certainly Bob’s thing. The Right Analogue Stick is used for camera control, and vertical orientation can be inverted. The camera is responsive, never gets stuck on scenery, but has a preponderance to zoom through your character when in enclosed spaces or near a wall, making it hard to know what’s going on, or what you’re doing. Due to the requirement of 2 Analogue Sticks, when playing in 2-player mode the option of single Joy-Con use is not available. Full controller set-ups must be used. Bob jumps with a press of A, a rather short and low jump, though, and plays dead, collapsing on the spot, with a press of X, not useful, but always hilarious at the right/wrong time.
His true manipulation of the environment comes from the use of his hands. Pressing and holding ZL extends Bob’s left arm, with ZR doing the same for his right. The end of each arm houses a sticky hand. Touch anything and Bob grabs hold of it until you release the ZR or ZL button. By doing this and moving the camera (known as Bob’s head) around you’ll see that control of the height and stretch of his arms are possible. Look up and Bob raises his arms, look down and he bends over and stretches to retrieve something from the floor. One of the biggest challenges to overcome, therefore, is distance. Judging the correct distance between you, your hard to control appendages, and the object that is required to be interacted with is fiddly at best.
As you progress through the game a lot of well timed jumping is required, and you may ask, how is this possible with a deliberately awkward set-up meant to confound the player. Well to jump to anything just above head height, first raise both your arms by holding the camera to look up and pressing ZL and ZR, then jump into the platform, with a short run and press of A. The sticky hands will catch hold of the ledge, don’t let go now. Next, tilt your head to look down, thereby moving your hands down and pulling your body up. At just the right time, when the ‘weight’ of your body is over the lip of the platform, let go with your hands (ZL and ZR) and push forward on to walk (Left Analogue Stick) and get up to safety. Seems complicated for a little jump, well yes, and that’s the point of the whole game. The first time you perform the move, with so many button presses, holding this, letting go there, it all seems confusing and you’ll mess up and drop. What Human: Fall Flat does well is giving you plenty of practice to master that skill before moving you onto the next. The jumping mechanic is tutorialised by making your way up a mountain. One mistake will probably mean falling all the way to the bottom and restarting another attempt at the climb. Perseverance is an absolute requisite for the player of Human: Fall Flat, and with it such actions become second nature to pull off. Just as you’ve become familiar with this moveset, Human: Fall Flat moves onto teaching you another skill. And there are many, from climbing, to shimmying, to lever pulling, button pressing, rope swinging, hooking/unhooking, death sliding, throwing, momentum flinging, floating, rowing, barrel rolling, catapult loading and firing, unlocking various door styles, building objects that will suffice to allow progress, etc. And the environment of each level is such that with clever thinking, or just dumb luck, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.
The levels within Human: Fall Flat are large open areas allowing you to explore at your leisure what it is that is required of you to make progress to the next section. Each level presents itself as a playground for the player to focus on progress or as an experimentation laboratory. I could move the wrecking ball to knock down a wall allowing access to the next interlinked area of the level, or I could jump into a large refuse bin and get my friend to push it off the side of the tall half demolished 5 storey building. And that’s where Human: Fall Flat excels, when 2-players are enjoying their time together. Playing alone can feel ostensibly like playing a regular puzzle platform game. Add the second player and the ability to help each other out, scupper the other person’s best laid plans, or just piss-around and laugh at being catapulted across a river for no other reason than it’s fun, is where Human: Fall Flat’s longevity lies. There were also plenty of instances where I felt I had missed a chunk of a level because I’d found my own way around, in a way that was not intended. And this lends the game an air of replayability to check out areas that you may somehow have skipped through. Places, such as Mansions, Mountains, Demolition Sites, Castles, and Waterways can all be traversed at your leisure or with more of a goal based focus.
Human: Fall Flat has a solid feel to its low poly-visuals. Textures are flat colours, but the use of shadow gives everything a depth of solidity required to feel part of the landscape. Draw distance is as far as the eye can see, for the most part, only fogging in the details at the most far removed structures. Yes, visually simplistic, but Human: Fall Flat excels with its physics. Everything behaves as you would imagine it to in the real world. Place a cylinder on the floor, with a long plank over it, and you have a seesaw. Get player 2 to drop an anvil onto the other end, and propelling hilarity never ceases to amuse. Ropes can be use to cross crevasses by swinging in a coordinated fashion, individual bricks of a wall fall down after being smashed by a huge wrecking ball, larger heavier objects are more difficult to move than their lighter, smaller counterparts. The only thing that seems wonky in this world is your interface of interaction with it, Bob.
That’s not to say everthing is perfect, far from it. Human: Fall Flat suffers from performance issues. Whether docked or undocked, one or two-players, the performance issues were all too present. The most vivid were the freeze frames. The game would freeze for over a second at a time before resuming its course. The game also has a dropped frame rate that causes stuttering in places where the areas tend to be larger. It’s far from game breaking, but it is very evident and jarring, and occurs regularly enough to be off-putting in some of the trickier sections. These performance issues present themselves in all the varieties of the Switch’s play-styles, docked or undocked. However, the general gameplay is so slow that the stuttering frame rate doesn’t really get in the way. It resolves itself quickly, within a few seconds, and normal play is resumed, until the next stuttering fit or freeze.
The music is lovely. Orchestral violin and clarinet concertos reinforce the dream-like visual scope of Bob’s dreams. Sound effects are mostly thudding, bumping, clanking noises of Bob’s misuse of the environmental objects at hand, and adds to the level of immersion and hilarity, slap-stick style. Nothing like turning around with an oar and ‘accidently’ clouting player 2 in the back of the head, with the appropriate comedy thud, to propel them over the mountain, that they’ll have to climb back up again. Which reminds of the save states. If only one of the 2 players makes it to a checkpoint, then upon death both players can spawn at this new location. It makes the 2-player game a little easier to navigate than a solo attempt. Why build a shipping container staircase, when you can just get player 2 to jump onto the dock-crane and hoist them over, then jump into the salty-brine and spawn at the newly created marker.
Players can customise their character from the Main Menu with skin colour changes, and different items of clothes for the three main body parts. All clothes can be colour changed to suit your dress sense, and clothes from police uniforms and casuals, to construction workers and soldiers can be chosen. Or, to the hell with that and just walk around naked.
The game has fluctuated between making me, at first, think that I’d hate this game because of the broken mechanics, to loving it, for the very same reason, to me screaming in frustration as an oar gets caught on some scenery and I pushed back into the water and a drown based death, for the 15th time. Replaying difficult sections is a requirement in this game.
So Human: Fall Flat excels at its attempt at a physics based puzzle platformer, and this is especially true when playing in local co-op mode with another player of a like mind. The game struggles to maintain the player’s interest in a solo play through once the main progression/story is completed. Some of the puzzles are truly great, whilst others can be approached and solved from a variety of angles, others, yet still, require a linear puzzle solution that can be tediously repetitive or, at worst, downright frustrating. A great game held slightly back by frustrating elements and a stuttering framerate no matter how you play it.
Review by Lee Davies for Nintendo: Review