Flowing Lights mixes a few genres that do not normally belong together into a package that is unique and challenging. Dubbed an arcade puzzle action shooter, this is a different take on the shmup-style gameplay. Although there are plenty of things to destroy, the meat of the gameplay revolves around puzzle-heavy level design infused with physics-based shooting. In other words, it is almost as if Billiards was a real-time action shooter.
The retro, neon visual style carries the entire experience right down to your playable ship and bullet-spewing blob enemies. The visuals also serve a function that ties directly into gameplay as each environment sports curves, hills, dips, and bends. Your cannons have a limited reach and stopping power so it is important to angle shots around corners or with enough force to power over that hill. This can essentially turn each stage into a mini-golf course, plotting curves and hills but in real time. Enemies are shooting back you, remember, so mixing speed, accuracy, and trial-and-error is paramount. Some players might be dismissive of the “die and retry” gameplay whereas some players will welcome the high challenge.
In fact, the difficulty, more specifically the challenge spikes, caused me the most frustration. For example, I cannot beat L04Z05. I tried who know how many times. Nope. Cannot beat it. After several deaths, the game spawns two optionally collected icons at the start of the stage: one actives slow-mo when you get close to bullets which gives you more time to react, and the other causes your ship to bounce off projectiles instead of being destroy by them. Even with these super powers, I still couldn’t finish some stages. If this isn’t an indicator of the challenge being too high, I don’t know what is.
Although the goal is to finish each stage within each world, online leaderboards create plenty of replay value and competition. Since the game scores you a letter grade, rewarding fast completion times, there is always a higher target to hit. Scores are amplified by combos too, trying to incentivize players to string together kills no matter the cost. This is easier said than done because of that high difficulty and having to pull back on the analog stick like a backswing of a golf stroke.
Flowing Lights has some bright spots and is definitely a unique game but the challenge isn’t for everyone. Rage quitting is always just a death away and some stages are so hard you won’t even know how they can be completed, let alone finished once you determine the solution. This is not your typical shooter so do not expect the same type of shooter-level entertainment. Puzzle solving fans that like a little more action in their gameplay will want to check this out.
Also available on Switch and PC.
Also Try: hustling at your local pool hall
Don’t Forget About: Kirby’s Dream Course
Wait For It: the Cotton compilation coming to Switch