Nintendo Switch has a variety of “pick up and play” games. Flowing Lights, published and developed by gFaUmNe is at its core, a game meant to play for minutes to pass the time while still offering enough challenge to spend hours on it. A bit of a puzzle game mixed with bullet hell style combat, it’s easy to pick up and difficult to master.
The story is almost non-existent aside from a few text boxes at the start of the game. You crash land on a strange planet with enemies and traverse to the center to take off again since in any other location, the gravitational pull of the planet keeps you grounded. This is not what the foundation of Flowing Lights is about. It’s about challenges and knowing how to approach a particular level as fast as possible to obtain a better score. This game is perfect for speedrunners and leaderboard hustlers trying to reach top ranks on everything they play.
The problem that the game may have is getting the attention of those players with so many other indie options available. Flowing Lights is not only a generic title, but its gameplay and art style is very much “cookie-cutter”. Some would find it difficult to find this game browsing on YouTube or Twitch unless actively looking for it. This is a game that would most likely be found when browsing through the Nintendo store finding a quick fix indie-game, and only if you happen you pass by it.
Playing as the ship, you have a bomb attack and a basic turret-style attack. The bomb attack can be used to build up combos when you destroy more than two enemies and have the useful added feature of showing its trajectory with a red line. Think aim-assist for a billiards game. Aside from those attacks, you have a dash move to speed yourself up and away from enemies or gravity sections of each level.
Unfortunately, a bullet hell style game should need more than that. With so much that can possibly occur on screen, dashing does not give you enough maneuverability. It does not even allow any type of dashing through enemy fire, which would have been useful. It is also a problem that you can only shoot your turret gun in one direction. This is not a twin-stick shooter. So going around enemies to shoot them from behind is impossible. Each level is less about throwing as much as you can to create an intense fight to get through, but rather it’s a repetitive process of figuring out each level’s opening opportunity to kill the enemy based on their attack pattern.
Flowing Lights eases players into each level as it progressively gets difficult. This was much appreciated since it is incredibly hard to achieve an “S” or even “A” rank on every level without some assistance. The use of gravity areas is a cool idea but rarely needed unless the enemies are in a very difficult/awkward position. The use of that gravity is what makes Flowing Lights a bit frustrating at times since aiming precisely while still dodging bullets with low mobility and multiple enemies on screen is asking me to turn the game off.
It does, however, have an easy mode that triggers if you die too often. Each level is about 30 seconds to a minute long, so dying is not a chore but rather a chance to learn. If you don’t, the game gives you two power-ups which you can choose to ignore or use to progress through the current level you’re stuck in, then these buffs disappear. This gives Flowing Lights a more player-friendly vibe, especially when it feels it is meant to play in short spurts.
It does need a bit of balancing to be done since some levels were too easy and then the difficulty spike ramped up then back down again on multiple occasions. It almost felt like those easy mode items are necessary for some levels but using them affects your overall score, so they are more of a learning tool. The problem with scores is that there’s no incentive to achieve a high rank. It is simply to add to your leaderboard. Players do not earn anything for it except bragging rights. No weapons, no skins, no soundtracks, nothing. Even some mobile games like Flowing Lights offer more than this game does. This was an enormous overlook to the game’s potential.
Graphics are just as generic and simple as the rest of the game. At first glance, I was reminded of the awesome gameplay and art of Geometry Wars. I was disappointed that Flowing Lights was not as vibrant and colorful as the old Xbox Live Arcade classic. It certainly had a simple geometric art style with cool pale colors and level design but with no charm or excitement. The soundtrack is eerie and mellow with nothing that can excite a player or even set the mood for the bullet hell frustration that awaits.
There are two things that are needed in a game like Flowing Lights. Incentive and variety. Leaderboards are not enough, especially with so much additional content offered in games now. A variety of weapons, enemies, levels, and music are important. Motivating the player to do better by achieving that unlockable content is the norm and should not be overlooked. A price tag of $10 or less would be appropriate and with 200 levels, it would entertain those who are looking for a quick, challenging game to pass the time. Just don’t expect deep gameplay elements or incentives to keep you coming back for more unless difficulty and leaderboards are enough for you.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Flowing Lights for the Nintendo Switch provided by gFaUmNe.