Damn it. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to hate myself for this review, though maybe not as much as the creators might hate me for it.
See, I have a major soft spot for indie game development. I love the idea of people creating games with passion and whatever scraps they have to hand, I love that people can base entire careers on simple beginnings, and I love when people have a good work ethic and sense of integrity about what they do. I also know it’s pretty tacky to get snooty about the quality of a game that’s completely free to play, with no advertisements, DLC or micropayments, only the occasional suggestion that you can fund the developers if you thought the game was good.
Aagh, I really wish I liked this game! Because I would happily see everybody out there donate money to artists in this way, including the chaps behind puzzle game “Kerflux” but at the end of the day I am a critic by trade and nature (which I think in most people’s mind ranks somewhere between right-wing politicians and nematode worms). And my gut-reaction critical response to Kerflux is a vague sense of… “Eh.”
Did anybody play Arkham Knight? If you did, you might remember those brief interludes where Batman is trying to make a duplication of somebody’s voice, and you have to get the sound right by moving a few sliders back and forth. You know you’ve won when Harley Quinn stops sounding like a male chain-smoker speaking in fast-forward.
And somebody made a game of that. There’s a song looping in the background that sounds like it’s being played through a set of free airline headphones smothered in plastic wrap, and you have to move a bunch of sliders back and forth until it clears up and sounds like a proper song again. God knows what each slider does – they’re all unlabelled – but all you really need to do is roll your finger until the audio stops sounding like it’s coming from a house party in the next apartment over.
So it’s not a test of skill, or a quiz on sound engineering. I suppose education of basic geometry might be a factor, because the sound quality is represented visually by two ragged lines that cut across the screen, one that changes shape as you adjust the sound. You know you’re getting close as the two lines start to match up and overlap, but as mentioned, I didn’t need them. The music quality is a perfectly suitable way of telling how close you are to striking gold, which puts the rather lovely visual design to pasture.
Because credit where it’s due, it is a pretty game to look at, with a nicely reactive and pleasing interface that shows the designers know what they’re doing. And though finding fresh, fun ideas for puzzle mechanics is like trying to find a piece of sweetcorn in the sewer, I can’t deny that Punk Labs have really done what they can to make this game appealing to the eye. Mind you, the same can’t be said for the music, which starts off perfectly fine but becomes frustrating when you realize there’s only one song that’s looping on forever. The holy orchestral chanting of a thousand angels in perfect harmony wouldn’t get away with being played over and over, and Kerflux’s inoffensive but otherwise forgettable backing track is no exception to the rule. Maybe it gets swapped out for jazzier tunes later on, but I couldn’t sustain my interest that far.
I also still think that every puzzle game going can benefit from some kind of narrative to add context and weight to our actions, but that’s not a criticism exclusive to Kerflux by any means, just a simple suggestion for next time. Because I hope there is a next time, there are signs of talent here to be sure… But sadly put into a core concept that couldn’t help but lose my interest really, really fast. Maybe try that Skeletomb game they made instead, because that’s what I’m going to do.