As always, you may click on images to view larger versions. Although in this case they may actually be smaller versions.
Readers of a certain age may remember the online cartoons from The Brothers Chaps: Homestar Runner and friends, most notably Strong Bad and his emails, were very popular in the early 2000s, in the heyday of Flash. Today, Flash is basically defunct, and indeed will go away for good in a few days, with the close of the 2020 calendar year. Today, the internet runs entirely on Google ads, popping in and choking the life from any website you might be foolish enough to read (even this blog has some, I think… they don’t show up for me when I’m logged in, but I think they’re there for all of you), but in the early 2000s websites were things you could actually use, and you could even watch cartoons or play games right in your browser without worrying that the almighty algorithm would bombard you with creepy personalized ads for years afterwards.
The Homestar Runner cartoons were (or are, I guess, as new ones still appear sporadically) hilarious, and The Brothers Chaps made a few Flash games for their site as well. The largest of these was Stinkoman 20X6, an homage to early Nintendo Entertainment System platformers like Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden based off of one of Strong Bad’s emails. The game was released episodically, with new levels added after the old, but it was never finished. That’s right: fifteen years later, just a few days before Flash disappears, the tenth and final Stinkoman level is here.
To actually play it, you’ll probably have to enable Flash again, since most browsers are no longer supporting it. I use Google Chrome, which has built-in Flash support that’s disabled by default. I had to go into the browser settings, turn off the one that blocks sites from using Flash, and then at the game site itself I had to confirm that yes, I did actually want to enable Flash so I could play Stinkoman. This worked, and my computer seems to have suffered no ill effects (yet), so I can tentatively recommend doing so if you want to give Flash one final swan song.
I played all nine of the original Stinkoman levels back when they were released, but decided to go through them all again since it had been so long. The release of level 10 also brought a touch-up to the rest of the game, including a new animated introductory scene and the option to play a more forgiving mode that gives Stinkoman more health, adds mid-level checkpoints and lets Stinkoman respawn on a ledge after falling into a pit (falling in this mode does damage rather than killing him outright). Even so, it’s a pretty tough game, especially in the early levels. It’s very much in the Mega Man mold, with Stinkoman able to fire projectiles from his fist, while jumping between platforms and climbing ladders. Getting hit causes him to lurch backward awkwardly, making it easy to fall into a pit or back to an earlier platform such that a tricky section must be repeated. Even with the new aids it took me several tries to pass the early stages, and I often needed to memorize where threats would appear and learn the sequence of moves to evade them.
Fortunately, it’s easy to continue from the current level even after losing all of Stinkoman’s lives, and things become a little less punishing later on. It’s fascinating to see the level design philosophy evolve in later levels, as the high precision jumps and surprise enemies become less common, but level layouts get more interesting. Many stages mix up the rules too: one is an escort mission (and, as is the fate of all escort missions, can get annoying), another stars the character 1-Up instead of Stinkoman, who can jump higher but only use melee attacks, and one is a bona fide side-scrolling shooter rather than a platformer. Each is interspersed with cutscenes that take heavy inspiration from Ninja Gaiden, and mock anime tropes. These are hilarious, as is the game manual that can be accessed on the title screen. I’d forgotten how much I missed The Brothers Chaps’s writing until I was watching these scenes again.
The tenth level is a fitting ending. Larger than those that preceded it, it features a mixture of new and old elements, and a lot of story sequences. It also has the best boss battles of the game. The big bosses in earlier stages are OK, but they’re mostly funny rather than interesting to fight. The new ones are both, making for a satisfying climax. I admit that I had not spent much time wondering how the Stinkoman game should end, but I can say that the ending we get here is perfect.
Like most Flash games, Stinkoman 20X6 feels a little sluggish to control, but I got used to it soon enough. It’s a shame that the first few stages are the most punishing, because there’s a lot of variety on display later and a lot of funny story to see. Those unfamiliar with Homestar Runner will still be able to enjoy a silly game, since it’s based on a set of spin-off characters who only made a few appearances, but veterans of the cartoons will find plenty of references for their nostalgia glands. An unexpected treat for the holidays, and a great way to say farewell to Flash. Long live HTML5.