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Thank you, Flash games, for everything you did for me and my friends growing up. For the joy you gave us during lessons, study sessions, and rainy lunch breaks huddled in the school library. For the weird and wonderful platformers, shooters, zombie games, and brain-teasers you threw our way. For all the laughs, scares, and good times, I salute you.
You weren't all brilliant - in fact most of you were probably a bit naff. But there were still so many incredible, genuinely well-designed Flash games that dominated my formative years, and those are the ones I want to celebrate today. Read on for ten of the best Flash games that taught an entire generation to procrastinate.
Even if you didn't really grow up around Flash games, there aren't many who haven't seen The World's Hardest Game in action, drawn in by the alluring promise that it's... well, you know... the world's hardest game. The title wasn't a lie either, by the way - this son of a gun made Dark Souls look like Hello Kitty Island Adventure.
The World's Hardest Game was devilishly simple on the face of it - control a red square through a series of mazes while avoiding moving blue dots - but the level of precision required to make it through each level unscathed was incredibly punishing, and dam-near impossible.
I became singularly focused on beating this Flash nightmare. I never did, and the thought still keeps me up at night as rapidly moving blue dots and mazes plague my memory.
Red Remover feels like a game Nintendo could have made for the DS, and I mean that as the highest possible praise. An adorable block-based physics puzzle game, Red Remover was a challenging and incredibly smart piece of work.
The aim of the game was to remove all the red blocks from the screen by clicking on them or various other blocks of different shapes and sizes to cause them to fall to their deaths, while also ensuring that all the green blocks remained on the screen after the reds were dealt with.
What this meant was that you had to consider how removing one block from the pile would impact the whole thing, paying attention to the game's smart physics over the course of some increasingly difficult levels and block placements. A brilliantly-designed game that really proved just how sophisticated Flash games could be.
Speaking of sophisticated, browser-based platformers didn't get much better than N - an admittedly simple-looking 2D game that boasted incredibly tight, smooth-as-butter controls that made darting around the game's many levels an absolute dream.
The premise was simple enough, but it didn't need to be anything more than it was. You zipped through a series of tile-based levels, dodging hazards, bouncing off walls, and collecting gold while attempting to make your way to the switch that would open the door to the next level.
N is reminiscent of other super-challenging platformers like Celeste and Super Meat Boy in that it demanded your attention and respect at all times - but it never felt unfair. You'd die a lot (or at least I did), but with every death you'd learn to a little better each time.
We move on now from a beautifully made platformer to the kind of brutally violent game that helped convince your nan that if she got you a copy of Super Mario Sunshine you'd start chasing her around the garden with a rusty pipe.
Skull Kid is a violent, gory, unpleasant game in which you storm an office with a chainsaw and a gun and cut people up. That's it. That really is all there is to it. If my parents ever caught me on this game they would have made me eat my computer. This was undoubtedly the worst thing I'd ever seen on the internet in my young life. Times have obviously changed.
And yet, in spite of its ridiculous gore and relative lack of gameplay, a generation of us grew up talking about Skull Kid in hushed tones, playing it in secret, and not one of us has showed up to work to cut our boss in half with a chainsaw. At least not yet. This game had a huge impact on so many of us back in the day - for that, and that it serves as a charming reminder that this was as bad as the internet could get, I had to include it on this list.
Bloons is nothing like Skull Kid, as I'm sure you remember. For a start, the bloodthirsty chainsaw-wielding killer has been replaced by a cute monkey with a handful of darts - darts that our monkey friend uses to pop a series of colourful balloons, rather than, say, vital organs. That would have made Bloons a very different game.
There have been a fair few Bloons games over the years (maybe too many), including the excellent Bloons Tower Defence, but I wanted to specifically include the original on this list for kicking off a beloved flash franchise with its simple, charming visuals, and accessible gameplay.
Playing as the aforementioned monkey, you have to make use of your limited number of darts to clear the map of all balloons, paying attention to your environment to destroy the balloons as efficiently as possible. Why the monkey has such an issue with balloons remains unclear to this day, but he sure loves popping 'em - and so do we.
Incredibly simple in appearance, but hiding an astonishing amount of depth, Tanks was the ultimate multiplayer title for all secondary school kids looking to kill some time while stuck doing double ICT on a wet Wednesday afternoon. I don't think coolmathgames gets enough credit for standing in the way of an entire generation's learning, frankly.
Having said that, I think a fairly convincing argument could be made that Tanks actually taught kids a thing or two about a thing or two. I mean, in order to hit your opponent's tank you had to consider the angle and height of your shot, so there was... some actual math involved.
Am I reaching? I feel like I'm reaching. Ah well, if nothing else, Tanks taught me that it always pays to have a backup tab with your actual work on it ready to flick to when the teacher approached.
Alien Hominid started life as a brutally challenging Flash game on Newgrounds back in 2002, and proved to be so popular that it was eventually ported to PlayStation 2 and GameCube, and even Game Boy Advance.
Essentially a take on the classic run'gun formula, Alien Hominid played a lot like Metal Slug, but with way more gore and violent decapitations as you took on the role of the titular alien and tore through scores of Secret Agents and presumably set the US government back millions in funeral costs.
If you played Alien Hominid back in the day, you'll understand why it was picked up and ported to more... official channels: it was just an incredibly well designed, well made, and brilliantly addictive run 'n gun shooter that was more than capable of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the work of bigger, more established developers.
Out of all of the games on this list, Stick RPG might have aged the worst, but it's also the one that hits me with the most nostalgia by far. This was my Skyrim as a kid. I'm fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds, but I'm being totally serious.
I remember being completely blown away by this crude, kind of crappy 2D RPG, simply because there was so much to do in it. You could get a job at a fast food joint, go out drinking every night, buy cigarettes, study for a degree, get into fights, and attempt to juggle all your responsibilities via a realistic day/night cycle.
Ironically enough, these were all things I ended up doing when I grew up and went to university, but for nine-year-old me, Stick RPG offered the ultimate immersive city-life fantasy. Apparently a sequel was released at some point, but I think I'm better off just leaving the original untarnished in my memory.
Flash games and zombies have always gone together like Nickelback fans and trucker caps, so there was never really any shortage of browser-based undead action growing up. While I have to give shout outs to The Last Stand and Earn To Die, the real jewel in the crown has to be Boxhead: More Rooms.
Essentially, Boxhead: More Rooms is a top down shooter in which you have to fight off increasingly large hordes of zombies across a series of levels that range from simple corridors to more complex spaces depending on the level of challenge you're after.
What really makes Boxhead stand out, in my opinion, is that the action never stops. Instead of being taken to a menu at the end of each round to upgrade your gear, you're constantly automatically rewarded with new weapons, barricades, and upgrades for racking up the highest possible scores.
This means you're constantly aiming to be in the thick of the action, killing as many zombies as possible, only stopping to breathe when you're good and dead.
Before Minecraft came along, Line Rider was the video game of choice for those looking for a more creative outlet. The game's creator has previously said that he prefers the term "toy" to game when it comes to Line Rider, and it's not hard to see why - this was an internet phenomenon with no discernible goal other than to create as many whacky courses as possible, share them with friends, and have fun attempting to play them together.
Of course, in my class at school, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, at least 99% of Line Rider levels ended with either a crude drawing a penis, a crude drawing of a pair of boobs, or both. Still, that didn't stop it from becoming a genuine hit around the world, even earning itself a remake on Nintendo DS a few years later.
Spoiler: the DS version is rubbish and you're still much better off playing the original.
Featured Image Credit: Flash
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