Take to the stars and reignite dying suns in Solar Flux from the Scotland-based studio, Firebrand Games. Solar Flux is a touch-based puzzle game that has landed on Switch. Firebrand Games originally released the game on Steam and mobile devices five years ago.
Players are tasked with gathering plasma orbs and shoot them into the sun to restore the unstable star. Each of the 82 available levels gets progressively more difficult while introducing new threats and obstacles. Aside from the tutorials explaining the objectives, there are no story elements incorporated into the game.
Solar Flux can be played two ways, docked and undocked. While the Switch is in handheld mode, all activity is done on the touchscreen. Since Solar Flux was initially developed to work on mobile, the integration of touch mechanics do fit. Players will lead their spaceship between asteroids and planets by propelling the ship with touch controls.
While docked, Joy-Cons become the only way to control the game. Using the thumbsticks and the ‘A’ button, players can now propel their ship in any direction. Gathering enough plasma orbs, players can aim and shoot the orbs with a click of a bumper button. Throughout my playthrough, using tactile controls was the preferred method of play.
Completing a level in Solar Flux awards you between one and three stars. Complete a level within the allotted time will net you three star. Fall below it and your scores go down. For completionists, there is a ton of replay value as you begin to figure out the best paths to shave off a couple seconds.
That being said, I often felt frustrated by the touch controls. So much of the game relies on precision and accuracy. When playing in handheld mode, I never felt like I had complete control. I would often overshoot my ship past a plasma orb and either crash into a meteor or waste fuel. My level of accuracy went up exponentially when using a Joy-Con controller. With a Joy-Con, you’re able to maintain more control over your ship and calibrate a lot more easily.
One of the core mechanics is gas usage. At the start of each level, you have a full tank of gas. Thrusting to the next plasma orb will make you go quicker, but it will also use your precious fuel. Once out, the level is over. The only way to regain fuel is by flying back into the starting location, or another fuel ship if the level provides one.
Firebrand Games has done a fantastic job balancing this mechanic out by introducing gravitational pulls, and pulse waves coming from the sun itself. A combination of all three allows players to integrate each into their strategy to complete the level.
In many of the levels, you will find multiple suns with varying levels of decay. You must then strategically gather your plasma, shoot them between the suns, and still maintain your fuel consumption. You will also be introduced to the temperature gauge. Keeping all the challenges mentioned above in mind, you will also have to stay clear of the heat that emits from the sun’s rays.
With all that said, the level of escalation feels natural and it rarely feels overbearing. At times, you may be stumped on a particular path, but coming at it from a different angle is usually all it will take to complete the level.
Solar Flux managed to keep the challenges fairly laid back. At no point did I feel stuck or frustrated to the point of giving up. Although, there is a certain level of grind that goes into three-staring a level.
The port seemed reasonably clean. However, one major bug was brought up when progressing from one galaxy to the other. This first occurred when completing the Helios galaxy. Upon completion of 5-5, you are brought to a “Congratulations” screen. Playing the game docked, the only option to progress is to hit the ‘A’ button. Hitting the prompt would not take me to the next screen.
I had tried replaying the level multiple times, rebooting, etc. It was not until I had taken the Switch out of the dock and touched the screen that it would let me pass by this prompt. This bug persists each time you move from one galaxy to the next.
*Editors note: I have reached out to Firebrand Games to ask them about this issue. At the time of writing this review, I have not received a reply.*
Solar Flux at its core is a casual, touch-based puzzle game. For players who seek this type of game out will find a lot of content built into the game. With 82 levels and achievements, there is a lot to accomplish. Playing in docked mode has its benefits over handheld. However, due to the small bug that I experienced, having the ability to use Joy-Cons while playing in handheld mode would have enriched the experience Aside from that, Firebrand Games brought an enjoyable experience to Switch.
[A copy of the game was provided to us for review purposes.]