There is a dichotomy at the heart of Flowing lights with it being one part puzzler and one part bullet-hell shooter. It seems to be aiming for both the tranquil and the frantic and across its numerous levels, you will find moments of both. Sometimes it is just enough to watch the never-ending arcs of glowing orbs and at others you will be pumping the boost and fire buttons to get close to the organic looking enemies to destroy them and move on to the next area. It is at times frenetic and at others serene, and it is in these extremes where the game finds both its strengths and weaknesses.
You pilot a spaceship across a series of organic looking levels which are segmented into small areas. Each one must be completed to move on to the next one. Completing them is done by destroying a set number of creatures. Doing this gives you a score and a rank from C to S, which is dependent on time taken and whether you managed to combo certain creatures. There are multiple areas across each of the levels and most of them must be completed before access to the next level is granted.
As in most puzzle games, progression is down to you figuring out the rules of the world and then using them to complete the task in front of you. Only here, unlike most puzzle games, the task in front of you requires quick reflexes and fast thinking. This is down to the creatures spewing bullets at you at a rate that will challenge all but the most hardened of shooter fans.
The action is viewed from behind and above your ship, giving you a good view of what is up ahead. The world is made up of gentle inclines and dips and across these, your bullets will flow with gravity, meaning they will fall into or circle holes in the ground, and using this inertia is key to solving many of the game’s areas. To navigate all this, you can shoot straight ahead, boost, or sling a mine in any direction by priming it and aiming it, Angry Birds style. The mine is the key to many of the problems faced in the game. It can be flung with more force than your bullets and arcing it up one side of an area and down into a pack of creatures is enjoyable. At these times, the game feels genuinely fun to play and the level of satisfaction offered as you progress through the areas is solid.
It is when the action falters and the game falls into trial-and-error that enjoyment soon turns to frustration and completing a level seems to come down to brute force rather than clever thinking. The ship can take several hits, but these are not replenished as you progress, and it is not unusual to find yourself left being able to take just one hit as you near the end of a level. This leads to each area being repeated as you work out how to progress through it. Death can be quick as areas can be punishing from the start and this is where the enjoyment sours. Dying repeatedly at the same section because you have one life, and the controls are not tight or consistent enough across the areas feels unfair and just a little too punitive.
Flowing Lights is an unusual game and a good attempt to meld two genres together. It looks nice with its modern-retro aesthetic and its use of bloom and organic enemies, but the brutal difficulty of bullet hell shooters does not really sit well with the more cerebral challenge of a good puzzle game. The action is not frantic enough for it to be a shooter and the floaty controls are just not consistent enough to be reliable as a puzzler, and these issues make it hard to see it appealing to fans of either type of game.