Flowing Lights is an interesting premise; a bullet-hell style shooter that breaks levels up into chunks, it alleviates some of the challenge of the genre by only making us replay small sections at time. It can be quite fun to play, but at the same time I found myself becoming frustrated with some of the design decisions along the way.
As the name implies, there is an emphasis on the flow of combat. Levels are set in a narrow corridor, and usually have one or more undulations in each of the broken up sections. Bullets of both ours and the enemies react to these with simple physics; shoot up a ramp for example and the bullets will slow before coming back down again. Perhaps the hump is short enough to let bullets maintain enough momentum to crest the top, in which case they’ll careen back down the other side, while hitting it off centre curves the trajectory of the bullets, and so on. This is used in interesting ways throughout, with spiralling vortexes, steep walls and mountainous hurdles used to direct the flow of battle. At its best, Flowing Lights mixes shooting with smart puzzling to hit far off enemies. At its worst, it becomes a case of gradually inching forward and sideways to get a trajectory just right.
That would be all well and good, but the enemies naturally fight back. They may be governed by the same restrictions but when there is multiple enemies with different attack patterns it can be tough to dodge and weave while also using the environment to our advantage. Some have homing attacks while others just spew out an endless stream of bullets. Our craft can absorb a few hits, but usually I’d end up caught between fire and be wiped out quickly regardless.
We’re not totally defenceless though. Our main attack is that of a forward facing gun, but we’re also able to wind up a powerful bomb that is aimed manually. It’s slow but if we manage to hit a few enemies with it it’ll take out up to three at once. Doing this also grants buffs to our craft, such as a faster fire rate or more powerful bomb.
As I mentioned the levels are split up into many sections. As we cross the start line a timer begins, with the S rank usually around 5 seconds and getting progressively slower from there. If we fall – and we did, many times – then we respawn right at the start of the current section; a neat touch that come in handy often. We’re able to go back and repeat sections to gain more buffs if we so desire, but for the most part we’re best off just pressing forward.
I really like the minimalist visual style too. Everything is very colourful, with stark yellow and orange bullets and enemies contrasting nicely with the purple/blue backgrounds. Everything is neon soaked and watching hundreds of little bullets bounce around the screen while we duck and weave is somewhat cathartic.
However, I felt little inspiration to continue playing for more than a few minutes at a time. The enemies are overpowered in my eyes, with what should be a simple section often setting me back repeatedly. Successfully utilising the scenery to bend shots around was a mixed bag, and there was overall a lack of excitement to playing. Only being able to fire forward with the basic gun meant heading straight into oncoming fire too often, and even the dash move felt weak when trying to ascend a hump in the road. The bomb again is powerful but too unwieldy to use quickly, and the upgrades were too hit and miss in terms of them making much difference.
Despite some eye-catchingly colourful visuals, Flowing Lights is unlikely to keep you around for long. Too many niggles in the moment to moment gameplay mean that any fun we might be having is quickly undone by frustrating failure.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.