STAFF REVIEW of Flowing Lights (Xbox One)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Flowing Lights Box art When I think puzzles games, I tend to think of locked doors needing keys, an abundance of pieces to fit together or some intricate series of challenges to finally unlock a door or something similar. Flowing Lights took me by surprise, as by its screenshots you might be expecting a typical bullet hell shooter of some sort. In Flowing Lights though you get quite a challenging puzzle game that revolves around an alien space ship trying to simply get from point A to point B but will need to use strategy to figure a way to do so with the planet life trying to shoot at you as well. Dubbed as an 'Arcade Puzzle Shooter', each fight is a carefully crafted puzzle that you’ll need to figure out, and the challenge starts to get quite high in the later stages.

While there’s not really a deep narrative by any means, the general idea is that your ship was attracted to an unknown planet that has an unusually strong gravity pull, forcing you to land and unable to leave. This sets the backdrop as to where you are and why native life is trying to attack you. The gravity though also does play a large part of the gameplay, as you’ll need to shoot up and alongside walls, curving your shots or making them swirl around a pit to destroy carefully placed enemies.

Your ship is equipped with weaponry, which is how you’ll take out your enemies blocking your path to each stage. Your main weapon is your blaster with infinite ammunition, simply shooting straight ahead of you. Fire into a pit or along a steep wall and your bullets will curve based on the gravity and angle of the slopes. You’re also able to shoot a ‘missile’, where you hold a button, pull back in the opposite direction like a slingshot, and fire away. This attack too will adhere to gravity and will be used usually even more so than your regular shots, as this is how you’ll gain your combos, able to see the direction and curve your missile is going to follow with a simple red line.

Each world is broken into a handful of smaller bite-sized chunks, allowing you to tackle smaller sections at a time or try to complete a full world in one go. The puzzles slowly evolve and become more challenging as you go as you’d expect, even adding new enemies and obstacles in the way even in the last few worlds. While your goal for each smaller section is to reach the end, you’ll also need to destroy every enemy as well, something that will take some experimentation and a lot of deaths to figure out. Many times, especially in the later worlds, you’re going to be retrying levels dozens of times as you try and figure out the perfect strategy to progress, as you have limited health. Thankfully restarts are instantaneous so this never really becomes bothersome.

With 200 fights hand crafted, each one truly does feel like its own unique puzzle you need to overcome, complete with optional challenges for those that want to climb the leaderboards and earn the best ranks. There’s an online leaderboard, so I foresee plenty of bragging rights to be had for those able to earn the quickest S ranks. Each level will grade you from rank C, B, A and S based on your speed, combos and more. At first I was aiming for A and S ranks, but by about halfway through I was simply trying to beat the stages with any rank, usually resulting in a ‘C’ grade at best.

While enemies don’t get “harder” per se, the placement and their attack patterns are where you’ll meet the challenge. Some shoot at set intervals, some shoot a nonstop flow of bullets, while others do patterns. Some will sit in place, others will move on a set path, whereas some will either mimic your movement or do the opposite, much like how each enemy from Geometry Wars had its own pattern and strategy to beat, it’s no different here. Keep in mind the way gravity works on this world and that’s where the unique gameplay comes into play.

Thankfully, developers gFaUmNe Inc (FUN game) know that not everyone is going to have the skill or patience required to get through every level, never mind attaining 'S' rankings, so if you manage to die enough times on a stage and simply can’t beat it, you’re given the option to grab a power-up, such as deflecting off bullets, so that you can move onto the next stage. This in turn though disables leaderboard rankings, but you’re able to go back and retry any stage from any level again you’ve been to without using the power-up to place on the leaderboard, and subsequently earn achievements, of which most are tied to completing worlds with certain ranks in all stages, so good luck with that achievement hunters. This means that even though you may simply get stuck on a specific level, or two, or dozen, you can still progress and come back to them later when you’ve finally composed yourself once again. I did this quite a few times, making progress on later levels when I became stuck, then coming back to it again later on with better skill and more confidence.

Flowing Lights is quite unique in a number of different ways. An Arcade Puzzle Shooter that will seriously test your skills the whole way through its 200 hand crafted stages and may fool you with its simplistic and bland visuals, its challenge becomes borderline infuriating until you get that inevitable “ah-hah!” moment and see a simple solution all along.

**Flowing Lights was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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