Radiant Flux Review—Radiant Frustration
I’m not much of a fan of modern day shooting games. I much prefer the older ones found on the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Commodore 64. I still play many of them today. Although many modern games try to capture the look of the old classic shooters, many of them miss the mechanics of them. Unfortunately, Radiant Flux from TACS Games is one of those modern attempts that goes somewhat awry. What’s worse, it has an added layer of eyestrain.
Radiant Flux is a combination of arena shooter (like, say, Robotron: 2084 or Omega Race), where you must destroy a wave of enemies on the screen, and a scrolling shooter. If that combination doesn’t sound possible, well, it’s mostly an arena shooter, where the background scrolls slightly. The enemies just pop from nowhere into the playing field; they don’t enter from the sides. So other than having to watch out for the terrain, it really feels more like an arena shooter.
Besides just your normal shots, you have two special weapons: a smartbomb of sorts, which slowly destroys about everything on the screen like an exploding donut, and a time-fused bomb which goes off a few seconds after being dropped and sends shots in all directions. There are also quite a lot of levels, broken up into waves.
So far, so good, right? Well, no, unfortunately, it has a lot of problems in practice. Firstly, your ship can only shoot the way it’s moving, which is done by pressing the D-pad in the way you want to move it. So in order to shoot enemies behind you, you have to move your ship a good distance away from them, then turn around and shoot while moving toward them. Besides this being annoying in and of itself, it complicates things greatly when the terrain narrows.
While I can remember some old games that used this method of shooting in the direction you are moving, like Yars’ Revenge, mostly they allowed you to move and shoot in different directions. Only did the home game versions have to do this, because of the limited controls of the time, usually only one stick and one (or two) buttons. The Vita is not so limited (nor are touchscreen devices), so it seems odd to design a game that way. Even just being able to use the stick over the D-pad would help. Maybe it’s designed this way to be more of a challenge, but it comes at the expense of playability.
What’s worse, on top of this, there is an effect that blurs the screen from time to time. I think it’s supposed to be like a prism effect, splitting the light of objects into different colors, but the net result is that it makes things very blurry. It literally has the same feeling of putting on glasses with a vastly different prescription from that of your eyes. It makes your eyes water and burn.
Worse, at times it oscillates between the two states fairly quickly, which induces a headache. Not just me, it happened to Jasper as well, who has much younger eyes than I do. It lasts a while after you play, too; I am rubbing my eyes as I write this.
Other than that effect, the graphics are quite retro, like those of his previous game, Super Skull Smash GO!, somewhere between a ColecoVision and Commodore 64. While I love those systems, the palettes for them were somewhat flat and dull. Yet if you look at arcade games of the time, they were bright and colorful. People wanted to make games like that on home hardware, but they just couldn’t, yet. The dullness found in the palette is also in the design of the ships. They are very simple shapes with no detail.
Clearly he put some effort into it, and while I think designers should make the games they want to make, sometimes what a game designer thinks is a good idea simply isn’t. Radiant Flux is full of those flawed ideas. It’s also literally painful to play. I’ve gotten sore thumbs from games before, but this is the first case of sore eyes I’ve gotten from a game.
If the controls were changed (to at least support the analog stick), the graphics made more colorful, and the eyestrain effect removed (at least as an option), it would be a much better game. The basic idea behind it is good. It just needed more player feedback, I think, which is a peril of many self-developed games. But as it is now, I simply cannot recommend it to anyone.