Also: they formed the backbone of a weird sort of sub-genre in the late-80s/early-90s. To wit: flip-screen platformers with rotoscoped characters and really annoying controls 'em ups. Few of us who played these games got through them without polluting the air with the sort of language that would make a sailor blush.
They were insanely demanding, the challenge coming from the weird weighting of the main character, who would plummet to his death if you didn't press the jump button at precisely the right moment. Each screen was a puzzle in itself, success stemming - essentially - from training yourself to remember when the correct time was to press which control.
1991's Another World from Delphine's software took Prince of Persia's basic idea, gave it a sci-fi make-over, and stirred into the mix what were - for the time - some truly cinematic, albeit heavily stylised, cut-scenes. A year later, Delphine released the not-a-sequel-but-could've-been Flashback, developed by one Paul "The Ball" Cuisset, who had previously frustrated players with his point-and-click adventure Future Wars.
Understandably, Cuisset brought aspects of his point-and-click puzzle experience to the genre, along wth his baffling inclination to make important objects literally the size of a single pixel - thus driving players to distraction, as they scoured the levels looking for things they'd missed. But who cares about whether or not a game is actually functional, right?
I mean, why don't we just hide the controls on our microwave ovens? Make them the size of a pinhead, so customers have to search for them, and then have to insert a needle into a hole in order to to program it. That'd be fun, right?
Anyway. Look now: Flashback is back - 25 years on from its debut - with a special anniversary edition.
Set in The Future, Flashback stars one Colin Stagg (Conrad Hart), an amnesiac scientist on the run after discovering an alien conspiracy. Armed with a laser pistol, and assorted items he collects on his journey - which takes him from the jungle to a Blade Runner-esque Washington - he runs, he jumps, he does roly-polys, and shoots down enemies.
Flashback was a stunning game back in the day. It was also a nightmare of profound proportions. The controls - as per the nature of the genre - were fiddly beyond rational explanation. You almost had to train yourself to remember them, as nothing about them was logical.
Jumping, dropping from ledges, rolling... all were achieved through a combination of button press and pushing the controls in a certain direction. More often than not, death came through momentarily forgetting these controls in the heat of the moment, than from the way the levels and puzzles have been structured. None of that has changed here.
What made the original even more maddening was the scarcity of save points. You were forever retracting your steps, and hoping not to make the same mistakes a second, third, or twentieth time. Fortunately, this new anniversary edition, which also includes the original game in all its unrelenting glory, gives you the option to play with a rewind feature, that allows you to roll back the gameplay pre-death. It doesn't fix those fiddly controls, but it makes all the difference to overall accessibility.
You can also, should you wish to do so for some pointless reason, play with visuals that simulate a fuzzy CRT screen. Ohterwisel - even in the non-CRT version - have been left unaltered. Indeed, the screens are in their original aspect ratio; no modern, widescreen, nonsense here. In that respect, it adheres to the original version's uncompromising philosophy.
It's hard to ascertain whether anything about Flashback would appeal to a modern player (though given Dark Souls, it seems that plenty of players love doing the same unrewarding guff over and over again). Obviously, this is being aimed at those who enjoyed - or suffered through - Flashback in its original form. I can only really talk about it subjectively, and even from a subjective perspective... I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
Most of my memories of the original have been tainted by what are - and this is not open to debate - flawed controls, the pixel-sized important objects, and the scarcity of save points (not to mention its unrewarding, 3D, third-person successor, Fade to Black).
Curiously, taking it as a museum piece, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with Flashback. Certainly, being able to rewind the action - and there was no way I was playing it without that option - has a huge impact on its friendliness, but that also allowed me to appreciate what the game does (and always did, it seems) get right.
To wit: its atmosphere, its beautiful visuals, and just how ground-breaking the animated cut-scenes were at the time. Also, I could play without worrying about having to retrace my steps every three minutes. It left me able to appreciate more how well structured it is.
It remains a flawed experience, but one that is now, at least, slightly less inflexible than it was. It is therefore rewarded more of an opportunity to overcome its inherent flaws, and reveal the game that was always there beneath the frustration-fuelled profanity.
I may not have had the best relationship with the original version - indeed, it was like being stuck in a co-dependent relationship, with just enough flashes of potential to ensure I endured the abuse - but with the benefit of a bit of distance, I'm glad its back.
SCORE: 17 years out of 25 years.