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December 6, 2013

Flash Focus

I already mentioned previously how the Nintendo DS and its revolutionary touch screen paved the way for hundreds of new techniques in gaming, all new methods of playing games that you couldn't play before due to, well... not being able to touch the screen. There's a lot you can do with buttons, but some games are just so much better when you can tap around with your stylus. Of course, this revolutionary touch screen also brought us a large number of games... that weren't quite games.

We've had everything for the DS. Many cartridges that you would use not to play a game, but because you wanted to ameliorate an aspect of your life. Want to learn to cook? Have a recipe game! Want to lose weight? Have this personal trainer in the form of a video game! Want to ameliorate your eyes' abilities? Here's Flash Focus for you!

Yes, Flash Focus is one of those special games that aimed to make your life a little better. The result is a game that can be fun, I'll acknowledge that, but in the end it's just one more game that you'll play for a month or so until you forget its existence.

When it begins, you have to create a save file. The game's mascot, an 8-bit character who moves like a 16-bit sprite, welcomes you in this new game. He begins by explaining a few bits of information about your eyes and your vision. All of this is very interesting, I'll admit, but it's mostly things we already know. The game claims to improve the player's ability to “make rapid and accurate situational judgments”. How so? By helping you train your eyes as well as your focus. Once the introductory text is done, you are asked to confirm the calendar's date. After this is done, the character continues with his explanation of the eye's abilities, such as peripheral vision, eye movement, dynamic visual acuity and more.

However, before the game can let you train fully, you have to pass three basic tests. The first of those tests have you following the movements of three boxes, one of which contains a green dot. After the boxes finished moving, you must tap the one containing the dot. It's like those games played on the side of the street by con artists. Except this one doesn't have any dirty tricks. It goes for five rounds, with increasing speed.

The second training game is called Number Flash, and it trains momentary vision. Basically, a number will flash on the top screen for less than a second; after which you must re-type the number that appeared on the top screen. While not exactly difficult of a game, the number increases in size each time you win, so it gets hard to remember all the digits.

The third training game is called Box Tap, and it practices hand-eye coordination. All gamers are supposed to be good with this; the amount of games requiring good hand-eye coordination is large. In Box Tap, you have to tap all the boxes that appear on the screen; as the mini-game progresses, the boxes stay on the screen for a shorter time. You have to be quick in order to tap them all. It gets really hard after a while, but you just have to tap forty squares.

And this closes one's introduction in eye training. Following this, your personal data file is created; You write your signature in the box and your birth date. Finally, the game determines your eye age. Just like the brain weight in Big Brain Academy, eye age is a fictional way to rate your eyes' abilities according to the biological age your eyes might have considering your results in the past games. Personally, I had 20! And I'm 21! Wow, I impressed myself! I think it's the first time I have such a good score!

The game strongly encourages you to come back every day to pass the eye age test and see if you're doing better or worse. The whole eye age process will become more complicated when you jump into the real game, with graphs for your scores and other things.

When you start your game again, you can choose to pass the recommended test, during which you will have to play five mini-games chosen in the game's small collection (only 17, and that includes the three from the introduction). The games are usually related to one or more aspects of eye training. In some cases, the game will force you to train the aspects that are more problematic with your vision. After a day, you unlock Custom Training, which leads you to another menu with three options: Eye Age Check, Core Training, and Sports Training. To check your eye age, you have to complete five mini-games. Also, after a day, you'll unlock the Graphs option in the main menu; this will bring you to graphs of your eye age and your talents in each eye ability. I've got to admit, this is a nice touch. Finally, the Others menu lets you change your signature, your calendar stamp (as you put a stamp in your in-game calendar each time you finish the daily training), some knowledge about the eyes, ways to relax your eyes, and finally the credits and the function that lets you erase your file.

Now that I've covered all this, what is left to talk about? ...Well, the mini-games, of course! Ten core training games and seven sport training games can be found. You unlock the sports games as you spend days playing with Flash Focus and putting marks on the in-game calendar. Since those are the more boring ones in concept, let's look at the core training games. Of course, there's Box Track, Number Flash and Box Tap. But I already talked about those, and it would be repetitive to talk about them again, so... here are the seven others,

Fast Match
-Symbol Order: A series of three symbols (all a C pointing in four possible different directions) appear in the many squares on the screen; once the series is over, you must tap the correct symbols in the order they appeared.
-Middle Match: Twelve circles are placed around the screen. A C pointing in a direction appears for a second in the center of the screen, and you must tap the peripheral circle in which that C appeared in that position.
-Letter Count: Before each level, you are asked to spot one letter of the alphabet. After this, a letter will move around the top screen and randomly change. You must tap on the bottom screen the number of times the letter changed to become the letter you were asked to find at the beginning. It's not easy, and sometimes there's a trap; the letter might not appear at all!
-Circle Spot: A few symbols appear on twelve squares on the bottom screen; one of them is a circle. Spot the circle, tap it, there you go. Look out for the Cs, however. (Boy, this game sure loves that letter.)
I don't even remember
that one's title... It
THAT boring.
-C Count: You're given one C pointing in a direction; after which you must tap the number of times the C pointing in that direction is seen on the two screens.
-Fast Match: One C appears on the top screen and one appears on the bottom screen. If they are pointing the same way, tap the check symbol; if they aren't, tap the X symbol. Easy as pie.
-Number Tap: All the squares on the screen have a number written in them; You must tap them in order. However, as it goes, the numbers start appearing in mirrored form or flipped upside-down. It gets tricky.

All the mini-games in Flash Focus are available in Normal and Hard mode. You always begin with Normal mode, however once you've proven that you were good in that mini-game and once enough days have passed, you unlock Hard mode which, as you could guess from the title, starts off at a high difficulty. Also, for each of those mini-games, you can see your progress on graphs. Also, guess what? All the mini-games can give you a score up to 100, and it keeps track of your high scores.

So far, it seems like a below-par kind of game. Those little games? Yeah, they're kind of boring after a while. I'll be perfectly honest here. I got tired of seeing so many Cs. Right now, I don't see so many reasons to recommend it... Wait, what's this? “Sports Training”? Really?

I think I must mention this: When the game explains to you the many functions of the human eye, it takes extra measures to mention how these functions are useful when playing a sport. The Sports Training is unlocked, one mini-game at a time, one per day, when you play the game and complete the daily training. If there's any highlight to this game, it's those sport mini-games. I would say they're fun... And they are! They really are! They're far better than all the games I explained earlier in this very review. Since this is, in my opinion, the best aspect of the game, I wouldn't do it justice if I didn't explain them. So, here goes.

Baseball: The pitcher tosses a ball at you, and you must try to tap at the moment when it reaches the square, but you must also try to hit it at the exact spot the ball reaches the square. Complicated...
Boxing: The boxing coach holds up mitts with a circular timer; you must tap them before the timer ends. The closest you hit the middle of the mitts the better. Sometimes he'll attack, so you have to slide the stylus in the right direction to avoid the attack.
Table Tennis: You're playing a table tennis match against someone who will never miss. Just move the tennis racket to hit the ball back for a total of forty times.
Basketball: Your teammates and your enemies appear on the basketball field, and you must tap the player(s) dressed in white on the field. It's not so easy as the characters become silhouettes after a second. I don't see too much what's the relation to basketball...
Volleyball: A ball will appear on the screen, while members of the opposing teams jump to try and push it back on your side when you'll throw the ball. Tap the ball when it is in a spot where it won't be stopped by an opposing player.
Soccer: Slide the stylus to toss the soccer ball to a player dressed in white. Be sure to aim well, because shooting it to a player dressed in red or tossing it between the players will be a loss.
Football: Whoa, is the opponent team made of a hundred members? You slide your character left and right to avoid the enemy footballers coming at you. Fairly simple, and quite fun. Just reach the end to finish this mini-game.

For those games, the graphics are really great. The modeling is good, the games are fun... everything about those sport games is better than the other exercise games. They're truly the most awesome part of this game. I'm not a fan of sport games, yet I really like those seven mini-games.

Just compare the two! Which one would you prefer to play?

So, what can I say about this game? Well, since it's a personal trainer, you have to come back to it once per day, in order to unlock more things. Not to mention that the game will tell you whenever you miss a day. What this kind of game doesn't understand is that sometimes, we have lives outside of gaming, so much that there are moments when we just aren't able to plat on one day. It goes beyond that, too; as other gamers will have more than just one game, and thus will usually prefer other, better, more popular games. As an example, I'd rather play Just Dance 3 or Pokémon HeartGold than Flash Focus. And sometimes, I'm so busy with other games that I forget the daily training of those personal trainers.

In the end, those games serve only one purpose, and thus will fall (nearly) forgotten in one's collection. I see the appeal, after all these games are the proof that gaming isn't just about watching a story unfold or test one's reflexes and talents anymore; now, it's also about making our lives better by ameliorating as aspect of them. Sadly, even if those games have good intentions, in the end you'll forget about it as better games come in your collection.

Maybe the quality of the game's modes has something to do with its quality. Flash Focus offers daily training that can be interesting; the mini-games could also be good ideas. Sadly, ten of them are basic and get very repetitive after a while, to the point of being BORING. They're barely saved by the sport training games, which are much better but too few or not present enough to save it. Sadly, there are only seven of those, so chances are that they'll bore you after a while. All in all, this game will fail to fulfill your expectations. However, if you truly want to ameliorate your eyes' abilities, it's certainly a must-buy.

Which is not to say that you'll play with it for a very long time, either.