Reflow Review

We’re always pleased to see developers make use of iOS device hardware in interesting and new ways, and the makers of Reflow have done just that. Reflow is a physics game that uses your iOS device’s camera as the main control input mechanic. What you do in the game is use your body and your environment to direct streams of colorful particles into like-colored baskets. But like so many soul-crushing things in life, this is easier said than done.

When you load up one of the 40 levels, you’ll see one or more never-ending streams of particles pouring from spouts on the screen, along with buckets you have to direct the particles into. The spouts and buckets stay where they are, but tilting the device directs the flow of the particles. Here’s where your device’s camera comes into play: the background image shows a high-contrast black and white version of whatever’s in your camera’s viewfinder. The particles flow through the black sections and slide off of the white sections.

Splash of color, and voila.

It’s difficult to explain, but it’s easy to figure out when you start playing. Essentially, you need to create a black background for the particles to flow through, and then use your body and/ or your environment to create white slopes that the particles can roll down into the proper basket. Things start out pretty simple, but before long new gameplay elements are introduced, and the puzzles start to require you to create intricate black and white arrangements to move forward.

To help you out with this mind-bending mishmash of camera manipulation and physics, you can adjust the level of light sensitivity, flip the blacks and whites, or freeze what the camera is capturing at any time. You can also choose whether you want to use the front- or back-facing camera. These adjustments are done using swipes and taps, but they’re not easy to figure out because for some reason the tutorial is hidden in the pause menu.

Curse you, grainy edges!

But that’s just the start of the problems with Reflow. The biggest issue is that the game is insanely difficult– as in, difficult to the point of not being fun. One reason is that there’s a good deal of unpredictability that goes along with using the camera. Because the black and white image bears only the vaguest resemblance to what the camera is actually capturing, it’s nearly impossible to look at your real-life environment and predict what it will look like in the game.

And as you pan around your room, the camera automatically adjusts how much light it lets in, which vastly changes the black and white image in the game. And in many situations, there’s a lot of graininess where the white meets the black, which annoyingly impedes the flow of particles. It’s hard enough to hold your hand at the exact angle required to direct the particles into the bucket, but when the particles won’t slide down because of camera graininess, it becomes downright aggravating.

So Reflow uses a unique and interesting concept as its core gameplay mechanic, but the implementation is far from perfect. With some adjustments, it could potentially become a wacky and enjoyable game unlike anything you’ve ever played before. But it has a long way to go before it gets there.

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