In the past month, we’ve seen a great port of a great game with Myst, and an average port of an average game with Pandemonium. Now, Manomio LLC brings us a terrible port of a brilliant game, Flashback. While Flashback is a classic that most people probably remember fondly from the 16-bit SNES and Genesis days, aspects of this version feel like they were cooked up without quality control, or even a cursory play-through past the first level.
8 bits of nostalgia
Part of the reason for this disastrous first stab at recreating Flashback for the iPhone has to do with the game’s legal limbo. In 2004, Delphine Software, the original developers of Flashback, went bankrupt. Flashback is now considered “abandonware”, so anybody with the skill to port it can sell it without paying a dime for the rights. While Manomio tells us they did reach out to the original developers, this port feels wrong because of a confusing control scheme and a major bug that disrupts the game early on.
While the original game’s sci-fi storyline and gun-slinging action are peerless, they are almost completely inaccessible on the iPhone. This version runs in a shell of some kind–you even have to download the game’s original assets when you first run the App, a result of Manomio not technically owning the rights themselves. In the game itself, a bulky steel-looking menu frames the screen, with buttons on the side that are mostly mislabeled. The “fire” button, for example, is used for several different actions like picking up items and jumping, and the “items” button will advance dialogue with other characters.
Unless you’ve played an earlier, better version and remember what the buttons are supposed to do, you’ll be completely lost. This version also lacks any sort of tutorial or instructions for getting around with these cumbersome new controls. The virtual joystick that appears when you lay your thumb down on the screen works fine, but the buttons shouldn’t have been labeled in such a confusing manner.
Besides the poor but tolerable controls, Flashback contains a critical bug on the second stage that makes advancement basically impossible–again, unless you know exactly what to do from playing the game before. This glitch takes place as your character, Conrad, is trying to earn money to get on a game show that could potentially win him a ticket back to Earth. He has to take various odd jobs from an employment center, including parcel service and security detail.
When you try to read the job descriptions–a very important first step before taking any job, in this game or in real life–you’re stuck in an endless cutscene that displays the employer’s name and nothing else. In any other version of Flashback, you could click through to read more about the job, like what you’re doing and where you’re supposed to go. Here, your only option is to skip the cutscene entirely and wander the city, clueless. A developer at Manomio owned up to this glitch in particular, saying that when he was past the second level, he added a feature that removed all buttons except for “skip” when a cutscene started to play. Unfortunately, the “cutscene” this affects the most is a critical portion of the game in the second level, where you need to interact with the job terminals.
It’s sad to say, but Flashback is a brilliant game that’s received a kind of botched surgery to fit on the iPhone. Manomio promises an update that will relabel the controls, fix the major glitch in the second level, and add other promising features like a full-screen mode and remapped controls. But until we see these updates for ourselves, stay away from this poorly made port.