Out Like A Light
Hold the DS approximately one foot away from you. Yep, this is a video game that doesn’t want you to stare closely at the screen. I know you’re sitting inches away from the monitor right now with googly, spirally eyes, but hold on, blink for a second. Sure, using a video game to test your vision is like getting a boombox to test your hearing. Still, there’s nothing like eye training mini-games to justify playing, well, “just a game”. At least that’s what Flash Focus would have you believe.
Edutainment is fond of giving a formal purpose to what used to be mindless fun. Flash Focus aims to dissect and examine interactive vision in much the same way as Brian Age does to academic worksheets. That's not surprising since both titles are made by the same developer, and Flash Focus looks, sounds, and feels almost exactly like Brain Age in its structure and presentation.
This time, instead of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima’s polygonal and creepily bobbing head, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki – who is “considered a leader in the field of Visual Training” practiced by professional athletes – narrates and guides you through each activity. Thankfully, a wiggly stick figure has replaced the flesh-tone jack-o’-lantern head, so you can play without being haunted by decapitated doctors. Each activity, which is separated into core training and sports training, is meant to exercise specific “focus abilities” such as peripheral vision or dynamic visual acuity (DVA). Even hand-eye coordination has an acronym (HEC).
HPI. How pretentiously interesting.
Predictably, the main attraction of Flash Focus is calculating your eye age from a series of five activities, each of which tests you in a different focus ability. Aiming for an age of twenty (please, all women already are) is the primary goal - formulated by numerous surveys or simple summations of exponential regressions transposed by polar coordinates and lambda-matrix flexibilities. (If you understood that, your brain age is nerd!)
Really, all the acronyms and scientific evidence complicate what is actually just an ordinary “shoot for the high score” hodgepodge of mini-games. Whether you choose to do formal core exercises or less abstract sports-oriented exercises, most involve quick recognition and reaction time, such as repeating back a number that flashes for several nanoseconds, remembering which basketball player had a white jersey, and deciphering which way the letter 'C' is pointing. Trust me, it’s a letter you’ll grow to hate as much as homework.
Just by reading how these mini-games work, you might have already sensed something odd, something imprecise. Though you may be training your eyes, success is steeped in a bevy of other skills: short-term memory, stylus control, luck, your exposure to the mini-game, and your resistance to epilepsy. For instance, the soccer mini-game has you flick a stationary ball on the bottom screen to the correct players moving on the top screen. Moving targets certainly triggers your eyes, but here, precise pen-swiping is what matters.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a variety of mini-games to skim through or that all of them fail in focusing on the eye. On the contrary, core training activities hone in their specific focus ability, and the Boxing mini-game, in particular, is as fun and fast-paced as Elite Beat Agents. It’s just that the content is rather dry. Aside from unlocking Hard mode for each activity and achieving scores above the 80 mark, there’s not much to do. Fifty percent of all the mini-games are actually locked at the start and are uncovered one by one for each day you play. So unless you cheat by offsetting the internal clock of the DS, it will take more than a week to open everything, and by then, you’ve probably worn the other mini-games out.
Flash Focus artificially extends the gameplay, as if it knows there’s not much to spread. Only your first attempt at any activity is saved, which is a harsh and inaccurate system particularly when calculating your eye age. For a title that’s based on science, it should give you more attempts or at least average several attempts for a more precise reading. Oddly, you can restart an attempt at any time, so the reasons for having a first-time save feature is unwarranted.
What’s more, the game during free mode will stop every five or so activities to force you through eye relaxation sequences. They’re skippable, but whether you skip them or not, you return to the main menu. Would you be a member of a training facility that kicks you out every thirty minutes? I think not.
When you come down to it, nearly every video game can claim that it tests your eyes, because well, you use them. And chances are you’re already training them with much more intensity – dodging bullets, shooting monsters, switching blocks, and staring at round objects – than Flash Focus will ever have you do. Cocked to the side of intellectual myopia, Flash Focus is a blurry and beady exercise that wants you to keep it one foot away from you – but you’ll probably do that and more.