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Game Info:

Solar Flux
Developed By: Firebrand Games
Published By: Firebrand Games
Released: Oct 24, 2013 (Steam/Mobile); Dec 11, 2018 (Switch)
Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Switch, Windows
Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
ESRB Rating: E for everyone
Number of Players: Single-player
Price: $9.99

Thank you Firebrand Games for sending us a review code!

A solar flux can go by a few names: solar constant; solar cycle; solar irradiance (even though the latter is a bit different, but related); What it means is the measurement of solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area. Even with our Earth being around a massive 91 million miles away from the Sun, we still very clearly feel the effects, and that is because of this energy produced by that big ball of plasma.

Now that the very brief science lesson is over—Solar Flux is an intriguing puzzle game created by Firebrand Games. The main goal of this game is to replenish the energy of the suns across various solar systems. You control a ship in zero gravity, navigating through the vast reaches of space to collect loose plasma and save the dying suns. When the game begins, it goes through a rather informative tutorial explaining the controls and mechanics such as what fuel and shields are for, as well as the methods to replenish them. If you decide to play with the Joy-Cons or standard controller, you will use the left control stick to move around and A button to use fuel, the right control stick to aim and the R button to shoot when you have plasma available. The ZL and ZR buttons are to zoom the camera in and out, and the minus button pauses the game.

When using touch controls however, movement is inverted. Touching the screen will push the ship in the opposite direction. Touching the sun in a level will automatically have the ship fire energy in that direction. You control the camera with pinching or expanding two fingers on the screen, like a smartphone. Pausing is accomplished by touching the screen with three fingers. I personally prefer the standard controls because a game like this requires precision to get good at, which I just can’t do with touch controls. Oddly enough on the Switch, when undocked, the only choice you have for controls is for the touch screen, which was a bit annoying for me when I wanted to play the game in bed.

Solar Flux
Highlights:

Strong Points: Simple to play, yet challenging to master; nice aesthetics and UI
Weak Points: Annoying sound effects; Switch version is a bit unstable, sometimes crashing when going back to the menu from a level; some levels are a bit ridiculous to three star
Moral Warnings: The ship that you control explodes when out of fuel, out of shields, or collides with an asteroid, sun, or body

Four galaxies in total are in Solar Flux: Helios, Oceanus, Hyperion, and Cerberus, all named after figures in mythology, specifically Greek mythology. Each galaxy has around 15 to 28 levels. Excluding the tutorial levels, each level has certain requirements to earn up to three stars. On one level, you’ll have to beat the level under a certain amount of time to earn three stars; another level may require a specific amount of fuel used (if any); another level makes it so that you may not sustain too much shield damage. There are some clever ways to complete levels such as utilizing the gravitational pulls of planets to move around and save fuel, using the solar flux of the sun to break out of a gravitational pull, and plasma shots to collect other plasma. In an interesting twist, your game is not immediately over if your ship is destroyed as long as a plasma shot is active. Some of these levels may call upon a Hail Mary pass to complete successfully—I had to rely on it a few times.

Solar Flux has a simple approach. I personally feel that anyone can simply beat the game, given enough time and patience. There are some levels that are pretty difficult to just complete (and I see myself as someone who is bad at puzzle games), but the real challenge comes from earning three stars in all the levels. Some of these requirements are brutal or borderline obnoxious as for some levels I can’t even fathom how to earn three stars. If you earn a certain number of stars in a galaxy, three extra levels are unlocked, which are more or less the most challenging levels of said galaxy. I’ve only unlocked the extra levels for the Helios galaxy—like I said before, I’m not very good at puzzle games.

With the game taking place in space, the background is filled with the twinkle of stars and the foreground boasts the radiance of the sun. In general, the graphical aesthetics are very nice, and the UI works well and looks clean for the touch interface. Each sun in the galaxy have a distinct color from the other galaxies. Helios is orange, Oceanus is cerulean, Hyperion is teal, and Cerberus is red. The cursor when aiming is red, which can present a problem when using standard controls as it can blend in with the orange and red in the Helios and Cerberus galaxies respectively. All galaxies have certain gimmicks attached to them, like how Hyperion has an asteroid gimmick where you only have a limited time to complete your objective before the asteroid pulverizes the sun. Cerberus on the other hand features black holes, which continuously expand and have their own gravitational effect, which may mess with your shot trajectory. The graphics and the set pieces overall look fine and do their job.

Solar Flux
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 64%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 7.5/10
Sound - 5/10
Stability - 2.5/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 100%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Capturing the ambiance of space, there isn’t music when playing the levels, with only one notable music score in the main menu and level select, and a jingle when a level is completed. In ways, the menu music reminds me of Mass Effect’s title music.  Instead of a soundtrack, Solar Flux makes up for it with sound effects, or at least attempts to. Some of the sound effects do sound alright, like the sound effects of the sun radiation and the jet expulsions of the ship, but others are really annoying, like the asteroids in Hyperion (which is a shame because that is my favorite galaxy). Overall, I feel the sound effects do the game a disservice as most of the sounds don’t really invoke a space-like feel.

There are a few issues in stability that I’ve came across. I noticed when completing a galaxy in docked mode, there is a completion screen that prompts the press of the A button, but it doesn’t do anything. The only way to pass it is to undock the Switch, use the touch screen controls, and then dock it again. It’s not a huge issue, but can be annoying. There is also a 1-in-4 chance that the game will crash if you exit a level back to the main menu. If you play this game in one go you'll probably never run into this issue (though it did crash on me during the final level as it had to go back to the main menu for the credits so I had to complete it a second time), but when retrying levels, I'm sure it will happen a half-dozen times. At least the levels themselves are stable and I ran into no issues when playing through them.

I would say the only moral concern about this game is that the ship you control can explode, either by running out of fuel, sustaining too much solar radiation, or knocking into certain objects like mines or planets. The main goal is to restore dying suns so there aren't any bad guys to face and the story is kept to a bare minimum.

Solar Flux isn’t exactly the type of game for me; I prefer a bit more action or a faster pace in my puzzle games, but I still see in its core that it is a decent game in the puzzle genre and it does have an appeal for those who seek a dexterity challenge. To 100% the game is still something way beyond my reach. For a cheap price, you can get a decent amount of hours out of it. There are control issues with the Switch version, it crashes a bit too often, and the SFX are pretty underwhelming. However, it does get the brain juices flowing, the aesthetics are pleasing, and there were a few moments that I really enjoyed. Solar Flux is safe for kids to play, but I wouldn’t buy it for a child on a whim. I would first get an understanding of the genres the kid likes to play, or see if they get frustrated easily by other games before buying it for them. If you like using your hands for precision, I would give Solar Flux a try.

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Cinque Pierre

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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