Games have greatly evolved on the handheld computing platforms. Graphics have gotten better, gameplay has by and large improved – we’re not quite in the golden age of handheld gaming, but I would say we’re not far from it.
With the mandatory overexaggerated, cliché statement over and done with, let’s get down to gaming. Flux Challenge is a fast-paced racer for the Pocket PC, with a bit of an original concept: you race ships in a zero-grav environment and your goal is to come first. Entering a race costs a varying amount of money (from $0 for the most basic one to $300,000 for the Flux Grand Prix), and since you need to rent a ship for each race, you have to make sure you have enough money for that too - $0 for the most basic ship which will barely get you through the first two levels of races and all the way to $100,000 for the fastest, most maneuverable ship. There are eight levels of tracks, with about four varieties per each level, which gives a fairly large selection of tracks you can play. The main eight levels are selectable, and the varieties beneath that change every time you play.
Inside the level itself, you face up against eight racers. The tracks are varied, with frequent tunnels and shortcuts that you can take. There is no real map of the level, so it’s difficult to know if the path you took is a shortcut or a roundabout way. You can pick up one powerup: a green ball that allows you to get a short boost of speed (which, for some reason, is called “Freeze”). Also, there are red beams that you have to navigate around (which slow you down), green beams (which instantly boost you), and concrete beams (which make you flip over and lose speed). Your opponents are generally of average intelligence, and are either a challenge if you’re flying a lower-grade ship or not a challenge if you’re flying a better or an equal ship and don’t bump into walls too much (which slows you down significantly).
The graphics in the game are quite good and smooth, which impressed me quite a bit: even with several opponents on the screen, the framerate never slowed down, and the game played quite smoothly. As well, while the general view is from behind the ship, I somehow managed to switch to first-person view (which doesn’t seem to be a documented function, since none of the buttons that can be assigned perform this function) – but it’s a very cool view, and even improved the gameplay experience since it suddenly felt even more intense.
Overall, I really enjoyed Flux Challenge. This isn’t an earth-shattering game that will make you flip and run out and buy a Pocket PC device, but it’s certainly a very good, solid game. I would have liked some guns, explosions, some opponent killing (à la Death Track back on the XT/286), or something like that. Yes, I know – I’ve been conditioned to expect guns in every game. So what. But even as it is, it’s a pretty good game, and I recommend it if you want a fun way to spend your battery.