Prisoner: Cell Block Hell
Final Light, The Prison on the Nintendo Switch is the definition of an average game. It has a few fun ideas and some interesting execution, but a number of flaws holding it back from the vision the developers clearly had. As a 2D side scroller, it has potential — but there are too many clumsy design choices for it to really be anything more than an also-ran when compared to some of the excellent platformers available today.
You begin with scrolling text giving you some context. In the 1960s, governments were manipulated by an agency called Black Butterfly into creating secret prisons to lock up political enemies. Due to their torturous treatment, many of the prisoners went mad and died, their souls becoming trapped within the confines of the construction. You take on the role of a masked man, sent in to free these angry souls — by killing them again, obviously.
You’re then dropped into the opening area, complete with scoreboard, shop and simple tutorial. B to jump (along with a double jump and short-use jetpack) and A for melee attacks are all you begin with, but you are provided with an additional attack before moving into the game proper. These vary from ranged fireballs and grenades to dash attacks and energy shields. You can find more weapons as you travel through the levels, hidden in lockers as well as for purchase in this first area.
At this point, we should mention that this is a rogue-lite game. The weapons you gain are random each time, meaning it’s possible to begin with no ranged attack at all if you get a shield as your first attack. Your jetpack can cause damage, but starting with a very limited arsenal can be a problem. If you’ve found enough currency in your previous run, you could buy a weapon from the shop, but I’d rather spend it on an extra life to give me a better chance.
Heading into the first area, you’re presented with the prison. Visually, it reminded me of Silent Hill, with blood-stained, rust-covered metal walls interspersed with open cells containing dead bodies. This comparison doesn’t last long, however, once you’re attacked by your first enemies: guys with sticks. They hit pretty hard, but a quick flurry of melee attacks or a couple of fireballs kills them off, providing you with health and XP to level up.
You complete areas as soon as you find the exit, which moves you onto a fresh challenge. Most areas involve fighting different enemies, including insect monsters, huge prisoners and flying arms. Others are platforming challenges which often have instant death pits.
Death here isn’t always a big problem, as you have three lives (you can purchase or find more) and your demise only sets you back to the beginning of that area. If you run out of lives, you’re sent back to the most recent shop area, be that the very first or one after a boss you’ve defeated.
Death is interesting, as unlike in most rogue-lites/likes, you get the choice to restart either in a new, randomly generated set of levels, or in the same ones you’ve already been through. Do you try to learn the layout of the levels or take a new set in the hopes things are a little easier this time? It’s a nice idea which gives you a little more control of your next run than you may be used to.
Death is, of course, frequent. Enemies hit hard, and environmental hazards can kill you quickly (especially spike pits). Leveling up makes you considerably more powerful, letting your attacks do a lot more damage, and it’s clear that the developers planned for this. The early sections become very hard, very quickly until you’ve failed a couple of times and become more capable. Leveling up is linear and doesn’t unlock anything beyond more damage, but it does give you a chance to learn how different enemies work.
So far, it’s pretty reasonable, but the problem is that there are so many little flaws that harm the experience. There are some very long load times early on. There are spelling and grammar errors. The framerate in portable mode is often choppy (although much better when docked). And combat has one of the most ridiculous cameras I’ve ever experienced — every hit zooms the camera in and out, with canted angles flying left and right. It makes it incredibly hard to see what’s going on until you get used to it. I assume it was intended to make the hits look more intense and the combat more brutal. All it did was give me a headache until I’d adjusted to it.
Why do you remain stationary on a moving platform, resulting in you slipping off it? Why put in lightning flashes that prevent me from seeing what I’m doing? Why make enemies appear right behind you? There are some utterly bizarre design decisions at play here that really do harm the experience.
But. Somehow I was having a fair bit of fun with Final Light, The Prison. After a couple of runs, I started to get used to the way it wanted to be played. The camera movements stopped annoying me. Some of the attacks felt good when I timed them well to take out multiple enemies. Then there were the challenge rooms where everything goes crazy, disco lights come on and dumbells start flying towards you, or turrets start falling from the ceiling. It’s these moments of creativity that show that EnjoyUp Games had some really fun ideas lined for their creation.
Final Light, The Prison is supposedly the first entry in a series. If the developers can work on what they have here, there’s potential for something very interesting. As it stands, what we have here is a quirky, 2D, combat-based platformer that’s actually quite a bit of fun if you can get past those odd development choices. It’s not the best of its ilk by a longshot, but it’s certainly something a bit different — and for some players, that may just be enough.