Arcade shooters have been around since day dot and typically require twitch reflexes or superior muscle memory to best them. But Flowing Lights is different; you still need good reflexes, but you need to apply a more logic-based approach to a level. You can’t go in guns blazing if you want to survive anymore.
Things do start off very similar to a traditional arcade shooter however. After making an emergency landing on an unknown planet, you – and your manta ray-looking spaceship – must navigate through 200 zones split into ten distinct levels to escape from this hostile alien planet. The gravitational pull of the planet is too strong to take off from your current position; you need to make it to the North Pole of this strange planet in order to take off successfully.
The opening level doubles as a tutorial and helps you get to grips with Flowing Lights. You will learn that you can boost in your ship for a brief time, and that you have two different ways to attack: standard bullets can only ever be shot forward, whilst your comet cannon can be aimed more precisely.
Each subsequent level is themed around a particular mechanic that, whilst the levels themselves can vary in difficulty, the zones within them are very much on a steep learning curve. Each level has between 14-26 zones within them. One level will focus purely on using your comet cannon and teaching you all about the value of hitting your combos. Combos will grant players more powerful or further reaching weapons for a short period, or even additional lives. Another level features treacherous paths where one wrong move will send you off the edge of the cliff, or a later level that removes the use of your comet cannon completely.
But what makes Flowing Lights special is the design of these zones. Far from a straight up bullet hell where you need to dodge all projectiles – though there is still an element of that – zones in Flowing Lights will use the layout of the land you are exploring. Enemies perched on hills will shoot further as their bullets flow down the side; likewise though, you can use these contours to your advantage as well. The clue is in the name of the title; bullets will flow through the world like liquid being manipulated by contours and gradients.
You can try and second guess them but will likely come stuck. Instead, you should try and change the direction of their flow so that they don’t become a problem for you. Use the gradients to change the bullets’ direction, essentially having it act as cover for you to plan your next attack.
Before starting each zone, you will be able to see what needs to be actioned as you start behind a safe line watching the action unfold. Zones follow sequentially in each level and, once completed, can be replayed at any point. Flowing Lights wants you to try these levels multiple times; after completing each one you can see the global leaderboard for your score on that particular zone, along with a grading from S to C. Rankings aren’t just down to how quickly you complete the level however – you will need to hit your combos if you want the highest ranks and the biggest scores.
That’s the ‘flowing’ bit of Flowing Lights sorted, but what about the ‘lights’? Trailers made the game look a bit rough and ready in all honesty, but that is certainly not the case when actually playing. There is a Tron-esque look to Flowing Lights, with lots of neon going on in terms of your ship and the enemy ‘blobs’. For lack of a better word, the enemies do look a bit gelatin in style.
Both the main and in-game menus can be a bit confusing at first, but that’s only because they are showing a lot of information designed to help you. Completed levels will have a grade breakdown alongside your total number in each grading. They’re busy, but if you are after going for all those achievements – and good luck to you if you are – it’s highly useful information.
Despite there being 200 levels to complete, Flowing Lights can be completed within five hours, especially if you’re able to think about the zones a bit more laterally. But this is lengthened if you are aiming for the S ranks and due to the ability to instantly restart any unlocked level, you could be here for a lot longer.
Flowing Lights is a game that demands planning in advance; these aren’t simply run and gun levels, they are puzzles that need to be solved. And it is having to adapt this mentality that makes Flowing Lights such a unique and fun experience. Bullet hell fanatics will appreciate a very competent arcade shooter, likewise puzzle fans will enjoy something unusual. Everyone else will be pleasantly surprised.
Embrace the Flowing Lights from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S