Jordan Zolan reviews Solar Flux on Nintendo Switch.
Playing Solar Flux from Firebrand Games on my Switch, I was reminded of an old quote from French novelist George Sand. He (she) said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”
With increasingly more powerful systems launching alongside intricate and massive games, it’s hard not to think the age of simplicity is a thing of the past. I love playing through experiences such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Dishonored, Red Dead, and all the rest, but sometimes I crave simplicity at its finest. Solar Flux offers just that, in the form of a beautiful puzzler with soothing notes and serene visuals. It’s a game that doesn’t pack a lot of punch but will keep you engaged and pleased for hours on end.
Stars are on the brink of burning out, and it’s your job to reignite them before they’re gone. The object of the game is simple; collect balls of plasma and launch them into a star, with each sun on screen denoting how many balls of plasma it needs in order to accomplish the mission. Sounds simple enough, but the strategy needed to collect and launch plasma safely is a whole different story.
The controls are exceptionally simple. Each level starts with the player needing to launch the ship by aiming towards the desired location. Once launched, the only other options are to fire plasma or use your engines, all accomplished with a touch of the screen. To launch the plasma, simply tap on the star you want to fire at, and to operate the engines, touch the screen behind the ship in the opposite direction you want it to go.
Even though you have engines, the point of the game is to complete the mission without using them. Every time plasma is launched into a star, a 360-degree shockwave is emitted from the centre of the sun. Time the shockwave just right, and your ship will be nudged in another direction. By riding these waves, you can traverse each level, collect all the necessary plasma, and complete the mission without ever using any fuel. Finishing each level in this manner will yield the player three out of three stars. I personally make it a goal to always get a perfect score on puzzle games such as this, so I found myself replaying levels over and over to achieve perfection.
It wouldn’t be a great puzzler if there weren’t hazards stopping you from completing each mission. Scattered over the maps, you’ll find asteroids, black-holes and comets that frequently lead to your ship’s destruction. Even the stars themselves can ultimately come between you and victory. Space is a stunningly beautiful place but deadly through and through.
As I played through the scores of levels, 80 in total, Solar Flux began to remind me of the game Zuma and of the classic arcade staple Asteroids. The relationship between physics and geometry during play is of the utmost importance. Not only do you have to launch your ship with precision aim, but you need to know the correct second to shoot plasma, in order to ride the shockwave to the next destination. Shoot too early and you’re flung off in the wrong direction or into the dead of space. Time the shot too late, and your ship could be sent hurtling into an asteroid belt. As the levels go on, I found the increase in difficulty to be both masochistically satisfying and at times wildly frustrating; just how a great puzzler should be.
The sound design is simple and yet hauntingly beautiful. The subtle notes of the underlying score have an empty feeling, giving the sense of being in a cold and vacuous place. Everything from the sound of collecting and shooting plasma, to the shockwave, and even the low hum of your engines, seem to denote an odd calmness. It’s all painfully simple but manages to pull me into the atmosphere the game is trying to create.
I’ve always had a love for challenging puzzle games. They don’t need to be overly sophisticated in order to be good at what they’re supposed to accomplish. Games such as these force me to think in ways most big blockbuster titles don’t. I’m not exploring ancient cities or long-lost ruins, and I am not gunning down thousands of baddies with a myriad of weapons. Solar Flux simply asks you to collect and discard, but to do so perfectly will take a keen eye and a brilliant sense of timing.