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Human Fall Flat
Developer(s): No Breaks Games
Publisher(s): Curve Digital
Platform(s): PC, PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Release Date(s): December 7, 2017 (Switch)
Playing Human Fall Flat is like watching a drunk toddler push a box around, try to climb it, and then fall off again and again. Which is to say that this unique and stylized physics-based puzzle game is fun, funny, at times frustrating, and best enjoyed with others.
In Human Fall Flat, you are little person-type-creature who must maneuver from Point A to Point B, but this floppy friend isn’t particularly good at maneuvering. Such is life. In each setting, there is an obstacle or two in the way of progression – a cube to climb, a hole to circumvent, a wall to break – the sort of intrepid thing which typically amounts to a puzzle.
The familiar puzzle-game dynamic is complicated through your charming little avatar’s awkward physics. Your little blob-buddy wobbles about and can mostly just stick his hands to things, jump, and look up and down – lastly combining these shaky skills to hope to hoist himself up onto various ledges. Thankfully, it’s often funny to watch the little fella die trying. These wonky physics are a cousin to the likes of Surgeon Simulator and Octodad, so if you get a kick out of that strange mixture of physical comedy and loose gameplay, this might be for you, and Human Fall Flat is generally the most forgiving of the three.
The substance of the puzzles in Human Fall Flat is basic and satisfying without redefining the genre. If you’ve pushed a box to climb a thing, you’ve met a lot of what this has to offer in terms of raw puzzle computation, but there are some entertaining variants. Some puzzles are fun, others aren’t, a few feel unfair.
There is a charm to Human Fall Flat’s simple visual style that feels in tune with its spirit and play mechanics.
The intentionally awkward controls work, and when your lurch is going well, they can feel quite rewarding, but your shamble can transition from funny-effective to funny-frustrating very quickly. More often than not, it proves entertaining to wobble the little fellow up a block and through a door, only to let him plummet to another level of challenges, or else to his death. Sometimes you will curse his flaccid limbs, particularly at the mercy of an unforgiving check-point, but you’re usually too amused to be annoyed.
The intentionally loose play control sometimes reveals an unexpected consequence, in that there are often several solutions to a given puzzle. Like in Octodad, you often see the thing that needs to get done and then half the challenge is simply getting your character’s limbs to obey. But Human Fall Flat has a wider margin for improvisation that opens up some very special and very funny opportunities. Your wacky but palpable weight and inertia can be used to really fling yourself around the playing field, and sometimes that’s just the thing a vexing puzzle needs.
Like watching drunk babies, Human Fall Flat is best enjoyed with a friend.
There is a charm to Human Fall Flat’s simple visual style that feels in tune with its spirit and play mechanics. Worlds are made up of simple polygons to push and prod. To some, the simplicity will read as stylized, to others it will land on the uglier side of cute, but for what the game aims for, it works well.
There’s also an interesting, if half-baked, veneer underneath the game. A bemused-yet-detached instructional voice-over guides you, and its dry wit is charming. It seems clear that this disembodied voice has cribbed some meta-notes from GLADOS of Portal and the intrepid narrator of The Stanley Parable. These are fine sources, and Human Fall Flat gets you to crack some smiles at the flatly delivered faux-philosophy, but it never reaches the heights of those lofty inspirations.
Like watching drunk babies, Human Fall Flat is best enjoyed with a friend. I’m curiously reminded of the original Toejam and Earl, which, if you’d care to revisit it, is wonderful to watch, but can become frustrating quite quickly. But Toejam and Earl immediately gets fun again when you ask a friend to join you and the split-screen high fives ensue. Ditto for Human Fall Flat. A puzzle that was frustrating may get easier or it may remain frustrating, but it gets funnier as you watch other people flop around and fall to their deaths. With a friend by your side, newer and wackier solutions can present themselves with a whole other body to fling around, too. A note about The Switch version in two-player, the split up Joy-Cons took a moment to get used to, but worked surprisingly well. The camera can get a little frustrating, but here it becomes another entertaining spice in the recipe of funny multi-player frustrations.
There’s no denying that Human Fall Flat has charm, and the developer should be commended for crafting a good time in an unexpected setting and style – there’s really nothing else quite like it. It’s recommended as a fun diversion, particularly if you have a friend to play with, and if you go into it with your wobbly expectations in the right place.
Marty is an artist, writer, teacher, and maker living in Brooklyn, NY. He’s written four books, made lots of art, and made even more sandwiches. He loves writing about video games and pop culture almost as much as he loves digesting them. Yum!
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