'Flow' app is an artful Sudoku substitute for the visual brain

Free/$.99 ad-free version
Big Duck Games
Rating: 4 out of 4

When you first open "Flow," you are not treated to the typical one- or two-screen tutorial that seems to be standard with iOS games.

Instead, it's a bit like the film "Inception." You see a field of 25 squares and eight colored dots. You can almost hear Leo DiCaprio asking you to draw him a maze in one minute that takes two minutes to solve.

"Flow" challenges the visual and problem solving side of the brain in a way that is intruiging but beautifully simple. In "Flow," you're connecting colored dots via pipelines that can not intersect. The grid format and basic rules lend comparisons to a non-mathematical version of Sudoku.

The vibrant colors on a black field with simple, rounded shapes and smooth swipe motions make the player feel as though they're toying around with a modern art installation as much as they are gaming on a device.

As one might expect, the levels progress from simple -- five by five fields with four colors to connect -- to mind-bendingly complex, with the hardest levels featuring a 14 by 14 square surface with 15 colors to connect.

There will never be enough great puzzle games for mobile devices. There are inevitably times in our busy lives when a quiet moment of brain-prodding is just what is needed to maintain the momentum lost by waiting in line at the ATM.

Like a sudoku or a crossword, "Flow" as easy or hard as you want it to be, and it can be easily abandoned and recalled as the day interferes and recedes. It's perfect for the train -- a completed puzzle actually begins to look like a well-designed public transit map.

Sound may be the only area where "Flow" is less zen and more playful. The idea is that these connections represent pipelines that are filled with what sounds like water. As you get closer to completing a level, each connection emits a higher-pitched dripping sound.

Something about the splashy droops and drips doesn't quite match up with the simple, sophisticated graphics, but a flick of the "mute" button remedies this slight annoyance. And let's be honest, if you're on the train playing "Flow" with the sound on (and no headphones), you deserve all the annoyance coming your way.

The major gripe on the free version is that the ads impede an otherwise beautifully modernist interface. This is a staple mobile device game and is worth springing for the $.99 to have clean, beautiful version on your Apple or Windows device (the Google version is forthcoming).

And yes, "Flow" is available on the iPad. Despite the uncomfortable menstrual jokes the name invites, it's still a must-download.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad