I love puzzle games. Especially mobile ones such as Strata or Puzzle Quest, or even something more casual like Cut The Rope. For me, the appeal lies in their ability to make me think rather than just rely on dexterity to win. Granted, there’s probably an element of self satisfaction that I’ve “outsmarted” the creator; however, as we all know, it’s much harder to create a tricky puzzle than it is to solve it. Personally, I prefer puzzle games that rely more on the use of grey matter than timing or action; however some, like The Swapper, perfectly manage to combine timed action with puzzles, in order to create an enjoyable, yet testing, experience.
Unfortunately, Ultraflow ticks almost none of these boxes for me. With a very minimalistic design, it doesn’t bother with a tutorial, instead opting for a “learn through failure” approach. This actually works very well for the game, as its concepts are simple. Your goal is to guide a small disc through the screen’s various hazards to a target… and that’s it. The disc has a number displayed in its centre, indicating the number of times it can hit a surface before it shatters. You initiate movement by flicking it in a direction, then are demoted to observer as the disc ricochets around the screen, hopefully reaching its goal before either coming to a rest or shattering.
Ultraflow consists of 99 levels, most of which have a fairly clear route to success. This means that all you need do is gauge the speed and direction to launch the disc and attain victory. Sadly, I found the difficulty resided more in getting the game to perform as expected rather than allowing me to focus on determining the correct route. Controls are finicky, and performing almost identical actions often produced varying results. Picture an air hockey table; you place the puck on the table and slide it with your hand indicating the direction and speed you wish to launch. That is how I imagined Ultraflow would behave, but instead you place your finger on the screen, and the longer you move in a given direction, the faster the puck travels. The inconsistency between your finger and the movement of the disc on screen made for a disconcerting and often frustrating experience.
This was further demonstrated when additional game hazards were introduced, in particular the hazards that slowed the momentum of your disc. These required decent initial speed, which requires a faster “flick”. Unfortunately, this often resulted in further directional inaccuracies, causing the game to be more frustrating than challenging. While the flick motion suits the game, I almost would have preferred the option to use a “slingshot” launch method similar to Desert Golfing or Angry Birds.
Control issues aside, Ultraflow has all the elements of a great physics game. Hazards are gradually introduced over time and each with enough information to allow you to discern the correct means of navigation. There are things that speed you up, things that slow you down, gravitational circles that curve your path, and even blocks that shatter on impact. If you’re ever stuck on a level, assists are provided to help find the right path. Respawning is instantaneous and, for a brief moment, your last path is displayed on screen allowing you to make minor adjustments to your trajectory. If you fail a level often enough, a hint will appear indicating the correct path; however, I found these were usually slightly off the correct line.
Despite my gripes, I must admit I did get a sense of satisfaction when I finished the game without using any level skips; however, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d not followed the intended route. Quite often levels were designed with a clear path, but also included a shortcut or glitch that could mean an easy or lucky win. This often tainted the win for me, although I wasn’t in a hurry to go back and try again.
Too long, didn’t read? Ultraflow is a fantastic concept that, I feel, relies too heavily on luck to be strategically satisfying. Too many levels had me repeating the same action until I “hit the sweet spot” and achieved my goal. All in all, the game took about an hour to complete and it’s free, so I shouldn’t complain; however, I was disappointed that it didn’t provide more of a challenge.