Price: 0.99 (Sale)
Version Reviewed: 1.1
Graphics / Sound [rating:4/5]
Game Controls [rating:4/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:3/5]
Radio Flare is one of the games that, while mostly unknown to the general public, managed to get picked up by the Independent Games Festival (the IGF), and for good reason. It's got simplistic graphics and pretty basic gameplay, but what makes it interesting is the extent to which the soundtrack is incorporated. Formed of sparse electronica, the soundtrack pulses along as you fly, syncing to the destruction of enemies so that your actions directly impact the background music. Its musical innovation earned Radio Flare a place among the finalists for Achievement in Audio at the IGF Mobile Awards. (Zen Bound ended up taking the prize in its category.) I have to admire the style of Radio Flare, but unfortunately, despite its musical merits, I eventually lost interest in playing it.
Both the gameplay and the controls are simple. In the tradition of 2-D side-scrolling shooters, you dodge and shoot incoming enemies as they pour in from the right side of the screen. You move your ship by dragging it with your left thumb, while you target enemies by sweeping across them with your right thumb; you can only target four enemies at once, so strategy is a must when multiple formations appear simultaneously.
When enemies are killed (er, that is, desynchronized) by your sonification beam, they emit a musical tone that blends perfectly with the background music. They also leave behind the titular radio flares. You have to snag a predefined number of radio flares to advance to the next level, which means that you can't just defeat a level by weathering the waves; you have to actively kill enemies and acquire the flares that they leave behind.
There are a number of different enemies, each with their own quirks; some shoot at you, while others simply float past and won't do damage unless collided with. Formations become more complex, enemies become more deadly, and the music becomes more engaging as you progress through the levels.
Unfortunately, the simple changes in enemy formations and attack styles just wasn’t enough to hold my interest for very long. Levels began to feel dull and repetitive, even with the new enemies—the game lets you set your own pace, in a sense, and dodging enemies while targeting them just didn't feel quick enough to give me that adrenaline rush; the automatic lock-and-fire system detracts from that element of speed, too. There's also a bug that allows you to move your ship just off-screen, where you're pretty much safe. The atmosphere feels mostly static. While the soundtrack coupled with the eerily empty background does give it a somewhat haunting atmosphere, I would have rather seen some different scenes.
Also, Radio Flare has a curious lack of levels. Most games are considered short if they’ve got ten levels—never mind Radio Flare’s six. Still, as each level isn’t too different from the next, those seeking a longer game can always opt for Flow mode, which is essentially an unlimited play mode. There are also achievements, which are a welcome addition, especially since the main mode isn’t extremely compelling.
I think that Radio Flare’s audio stands for itself; its synchronization with your actions really makes it feel like you're completely immersed in the game, and every time you play, the soundtrack will be different. Graphics are crisp and work well enough, even if they’re not overly detailed.
Radio Flare’s designers obviously invested a lot of time into its musical elements, and it shows. Unfortunately, it feels as if its other attributes suffered from some neglect—as if the musical darling of the family stole the show from its ordinary siblings. For me, the game just wasn’t fun after a while—there was too much of the same tactics, too little strategy, too few curveballs to keep me engaged. On the other hand, this might be a matter of simple personal preference, as some others have really enjoyed it—take the lite version for a spin, and give it a shot yourself. At the very least, you’ll get to toy with its soundtrack!