Review: PDAMill Flux Challenge

Do you think you have tried a lot of games? Sometimes I think I do as well. But more often I realise how often I see an advertisement of a game I never really checked out, or how often I see a game mentioned in a “top 10” list that’s completely new to me. One of those very popular games is Flux Challenge by PDAMill. It won the award for “Best simulation game” in the SP & PPC Magazine contest last year, and that has to have a meaning. So, even though race games are not my genre, I just had to give this game a try in the end. And I liked it! Read on for the review…

Installation and trial limitations 

From the PDAMill website, a .exe download is available for download. While .cab files are not available for download over the air, there is a workaround if you’re on a desktop PC. Just download and install the .exe file available at the product page, and then find the .cab file for your screen resolution in the C:\Program Files\PDAmill\PPC\Flux Challenge\ folder, or another folder if you changed the installation folder during the installation process.
Installing is very straightforward, you only have to choose your screen resolution during the installation and the rest is a piece of cake. If you purchased the full version, you get to download a full version of the game. Now installation over the PC (ActiveSync) is recommended, since you will have to insert your registration key.

The trial doesn’t limit you in time, but the Career mode is locked. Since you need to earn money in order to afford expensive ships, and need to unlock levels before you can play them in Practice and Time Trial mode, this means that only two levels and ships are available. I think this is a very good way to limit the trial, since you can play as much as you want and get to know the game. One element that you can’t get to know, though, is the question that you always have to ask yourself: Do I invest risk my money and have a chance to get rich quickly, or do I play safe and get rich slowly?

Menu screens

As with many games, the first time you start a game you will have to enter your name. Unfortunately “spmwinkel” seems to be one character too long, so I went with my first name.
You can have four players accounts, and as you can see you can easily rename or remove them if you wish.

Each player account contains the money you have earned and which you can use to get a place in races and rent a car.
Also displayed is the season you are in.
Finally, non visible, the tracks you raced are stored in the account data, since these will be available in Time Trial and Practice mode.

The next screen is the main menu. You can access the settings in the top, the three game modes, a list of your records, a help section giving explanations on various topics, and the credits.
Double-tap on an item to open it, or tap once and select the “Next” button. An issue I found was that the buttons at the bottom didn’t respond to my soft-keys, and while I saw a screenshot with a page to change the buttons on another Flux Challenge review, I couldn’t find it myself. D-Pad support in the menu’s does work, though.

Tapping the name in the bottom middle brings you back to the Login page where you can change accounts. Now please see some screens of the Records, Help, Credits, and Settings screens. The records don’t contain any names or data yet, but you get the idea!

The settings screen contains audio settings, display settings, and a setting to inverse the up and down keys to make them match an airplane, where you push up to move the nose of your ship down, going down yourself as well.

The audio settings include three levels of audio quality. If you feel that the audio is taking too much resources and your game doesn’t run smooth, set the audio quality to a lower level. If you don’t want to use the audio, like me, just mute the sound and music alltogether. There are also three graphic settings that can improve the performance of the game on older devices, but the settings I’m most interested in are the Cockpit View and the Large Screen setting.

Cockpit View changes the view inside the game to a 1st person view, where you sit in the cockpit and can’t see your own ship. I prefer to play in normal (3rd person) mode where you are behind your ship and can make a better judgement of the location of your ship compared to the tunnel (in my opinion).
The Large Screen setting makes the screen completely filled with the actual racing track, if you disable this setting you get a control section in the bottom of the screen with on-screen navigation buttons and buttons for Boost and Pause (Freeze). Since I preferred playing with the D-Pad button over playing with the stylus (tapping in the track environment) or with the on-screen control panel, I play in Large Screen mode.

Game modes, starting a race

Three game modes are available. The most important (and the one that’s disabled in the Trial!) is the Career mode. For each season in a year, there are six tracks available. You can play one track each season, so every four races you can pick from the same six tracks again, a total of 24 tracks. However, only the tracks that you can afford are available (you need to pay an entry fee), so you will need CASH! Also, in order to play a race, you will need a ship. And guess what, all ships except for the first (and weakest), also require money! So in order to play the advanced levels with more powerful ships, you will need to win easier races.

Money can be won by winning races. However, getting second in a race just gives you your investment (the entry fee and ship rent) back, and third place gives you half your investment back. If you become fourth or fifth, you just lose your money. So you need to be careful and only risk money if you know you can afford it. If, after your entry fee and ship rent, you only have $ 3.000 left, losing the race means: Back to the beginnig and start over again! Winning the ultimate track, Grand Flux, awards you with the Cup, but I haven’t made it that far yet. I keep risking too much, which puts me back at the beginning again and again. I wouldn’t be a good poker player!

The other two game modes are Practice, where you can explore all the tracks that you have raced in the Career mode. Practice the tracks to get good at them and find the best ways to navigate through the tunnels. Especially at the more difficult levels, this will be a welcome way to train your skills without risking money. If your entire wallet is at stake in Career mode, you will want to perform! Time Trial mode is, in my opinion, a good mode for after you’ve completed the Career mode. Here you can, you’ve probably guessed it already, try to beat your own highscore. You can see a ghost of your best time, so you can see where you should adjust and optimize your navigation.

No matter which mode you pick, you will always have to pick a track and a ship. The corresponding screens are below. 

In practice and time trial mode, you get to see all 24 tracks, but only the ones you have unlocked in the past can be played. In Career mode, however, you only see the six tracks available that season. Here only the tracks that you can afford are displayed.
The ships get more expensive going down the list, but they also have better stats. The Tornado GT X has almost maxed out stats, so you will want to save your money ($100.000!!) to use this ship in crucial races!

The races!

First of all I’d like to point you to this review of Flux Challenge at PDAGold.com which has many screenshots of the game, including many action shots. It’s hard to make action shots because of the ship’s speed, so they did a great job. The screenshots show you various parts of the game, also using various settings (Large screen, Cockpit View). Be sure to take a look!

The races all take place in tunnels, complete with side tunnels and corners left/right/up/down. In Career mode, you compete against four other ships, who – in general – do a pretty good job on the races. I didn’t think that the AI was too easy or too difficult, Flux Challenge is superbly balanced in this aspect. The speed is high, so luckily the MagiLev ship responds well to your navigation commands. Another very positive note is that the 3D graphics and animations are extremely smooth, this impressed me! Now let’s see some screenshots I took (hooray for the “Freeze” (Pause) function!). Note that one these screenshots, the bottom buttons say “Exit” and “Resume”. This is in Pause (“Freeze”) mode. Normally those buttons say Boost and Freeze. Press Freeze to pause the game, and press Boost of you want to use one of the Fuel bubbles you can find on the track.

The left screenshot shows the most simple shot. A tunnle, your ship, and an easy corner to the left coming. At the top you see the time you’ve currently been racing, and your position (1st, 2nd, etc). Under that is a bar where you can see your position (the green dot) compared to the other ships (red dots). The blue bars represent checkpoints where your time is measured, and the green bar in the middle shows where you start your second lap (races are two laps). In the bottom you see some grey dots on the left. They light up if you find a Fuel bubble, and you can use them by pressing the Boost button under it. The bar on the right represents your speed. There’s no need to accelerate in this game, it’s all automatical! This is really nice, since you’ll need to focus on navigation!

Next to discuss are the objects. There are three kinds of objects:First there are fuel bubbles (not displayed) which can be used whenever you want and boost your speed for 3 seconds. Then there are speed/slow down bars which increase or decrease your speed for a while. Some don’t move (left screenshot), some move vertically, and some rotate in the tunnel, which makes it significantly more difficult to touch or ignore the bar. And finally there are obstacles (screenshot on the right) which you will just need to avoid for the obvious reasons.

On the screenshot to the left you can see in the top bar that all the dots are close to a blue line. On the big screen in the center you can see that we’re approaching a time checkpoint, which will display the time all players pass that checkpoint. This can be used to calculate your advantage or how much you are behind your opponents, or to see on which parts of the track you have lost some valuable seconds. Ideal for Time Trial! The screen on the right shows the ship approaching the finish tunnle of blue rings, after which you see the total times for all players, and (in Career mode) if and what you won.

Conclusion

Navigating MagiLev ships is not difficult. You press the left, right, up and down button, that’s all there is to it. The difficulty comes with the challenging levels and the speed at which you have to race through the tunnels. This, and the “do I play it safe or want to get rich quickly” strategy choice that you have to make, justifies that this game is on many “Top 10 PPC games” lists. You can first try to beat the Career mode, and as soon as you completed a track you can improve your skills in the Practice mode and perfect them in Time Trial mode. Races only take ~2 minutes, so it’s very easy to play a game quickly if you don’t have a lot of time, but this defenitely is the kind of game that you don’t want to exit because it’s just begging to be played again and again! Only downside: I couldn’t use my soft-keys.

Name: Flux Challenge
Version: 4.0
By: PDAMill
Platforms/OS: PocketPC, based on this list WM 2003 and WM5 are supported, not sure about WM6. Please try the trial before purchase, as always!
Resolutions: QVGA portrait/landscape and VGA portrait/landscape.
Price: $19.95
Download trial or purchase!

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