I loved Flashback when it was released. It was exactly the kind of sci-fi action mystery I could totally dig (big, futuristic cities, crazy conspiracies, gadgets, a Total Recall brainwashing machine…). Not only that, it deftly combined elements of platforming and adventure games into something that felt new and right. You weren’t pixel-hunting or getting lost as in an adventure, and you weren’t hopping around like a fucking Jack Russell terrier as in a typical platformer. Cliché as it sounds, it was indeed the best of both worlds.
You play as an amnesiac, escaping your captors in an opening cutscene that ends with you shot down and faceplanted in the jungle. For spoiler’s sake, I’m not sure how much information you’re supposed to have going in – a Marvel comic in the instruction booklet gives you all the backstory that the game later will in a cutscene. Also, you pretty much know the score after the beginning of the second level, so the amnesia aspect isn’t particularly played up. But rather than potentially ruining anything for anyone who hasn’t played, I’ll leave it where it currently stands. You –> guy with a gun, chased by unknown bad guys, stranded in the jungle. It gets increasingly intense from there.
But I will get the other big question out of the way quickly; Flashback for the Jaguar is about as straight and direct as a port can be. The basic gameplay and look are entirely identical to the 16-bit versions, and there are no exclusive levels or additions. The 3DO and Sega CD ports would get new CG cutscenes, voice acting, and new music, but none of that is here – blame the lack of a CD attachment (at the time) for that.
So graphically, this version looks like every other version of Flashback out there. It does not look better. Animations look the same, and it doesn’t appear that any frames have been added – a judgment supported by both the Jaguar and SNES boxes touting the same 24 frames of animation. It does not have visibly improved colors. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are more available colors, but the bottom line is that Delphine didn’t redraw the original 16-bit game for anyone.
Nor should they have. The Jaguar has a vastly larger color palette over the Genesis’ infamous 64 simultaneous, but if only limited colors are used by the game, then only limited colors get shown – regardless of what system you put it on. Even the SNES port didn’t look much different, so why should yet more available colors change anything? But the good news is that all versions look equally amazing. Jungles show off vibrant greens, later cities look well-used, with a Brutalist style heavy on concrete. Your character still has no face, but his animation is slick and fluid. Cutscenes look simple and polygonal, but tell the story perfectly.
Nothing new on the auditory side either, but what is here suits the game well. There’s no background music; instead going with ambience or situational underscores. There are some item pickup riffs and short themes that play for introductions or action moments. Otherwise, the background is reserved for the distant chirp of birds, or the droning of wall-mounted machinery. All effects easily signal nearby traps, or sound appropriate for the future tech in use. Your pistol remains loud, and satisfying to blast mutants with.
Control is a snap, with no differences from the other ports. A is used for actions, B uses a selected inventory item, and C draws your pistol. Like Prince of Persia, your movement options change when your weapon is drawn, and you’ll need to stow it to perform any serious jumps. Running, leaping, and auto-grabbing nearby ledges are handled easily with the minimum amount of button presses, and you can string together some impressive combos. Later missions, like the Death Tower and the final job in New Washington, will test these combo-stringing skills. Diagonals (needed to quickly roll under objects) can be the only real issue, but I recall this being flaky on the Genesis too.
If there’s any real negative, it’s that this port doesn’t show off the Jaguar’s 64-bitness, and underwhelmed people then just as it does the casual YouTube commenter today. This is the old “well it doesn’t look any better than my Genesis!” routine. I’m not exactly sure what kind of alchemy these people expected the Jaguar to do – maybe you were supposed to stick the 16-bit cartridge in and the other 48 bits popped out, gave it a true 3D engine and bump mapped everything on the fly. Even if Delphine saw the value in doing so, I doubt a remade Flashback would actually be as impressive (look how Fade to Black turned out).
Though I guess that’s a tough choice for Atari’s management. Do you port over proven, triple-A 16-bit games like this one, and risk not showing off your console, or do you exclusively fill your catalogue with processor-crunching titles like Iron Soldier and Missile Command 3D? I don’t know the answer (clearly, neither did the Tramiels), but I certainly didn’t think the 2D platformer was dead, or that Flashback doesn’t look stylish.
The bad news is that there’s no reason to even look at this version if you’ve already played Flashback before. The Sega CD and 3DO at least have the multimedia additions to somewhat justify a replay (though the core game on either system still looks, and is, the same). On the Jag, you don’t even have that to consider. That limits this port to the small overlap of Jaguar owners who haven’t played Flashback before. But if you do fall into that category, you’re going to find an excellent port one of the 90s’ best games.
Flawless port of a tremendous action/adventure.
Flashback is an equally impressive game no matter what system you play it on. The Jaguar version offers nothing you can’t get elsewhere.