A few weeks ago, at the Nintendo Holiday Preview event, I tried out a game by Nicalis called NightSky for the Nintendo 3DS. I was only going to try it out for a few minutes (I was only there for a short stint) – but I spent more time there than I had planned (and enjoyed every extra minute). This physics-based puzzle game for the Nintendo 3DS roped me in and didn’t let go; and I’m sure it will do the same to you.
The main mode of the game is a single-player experience; and it will leave you scratching your head in terms of the “story” – it did with me. You start as a small black sphere; and your goal seems to be to move ever-forward through a series of different worlds. It is odd and vague; and yet, I found myself compelled to propel my on-screen counterpart through puzzle after puzzle. The levels start out simple enough – and from an absolute standpoint, the further you get in the game, the more difficult they are. However, the level design is so well thought-out that if you stick with the game, the increase in difficulty between levels feels relatively small.
Controls are intuitive and effective. The Circle Pad or D-pad control the rotation of the sphere; however, it may not necessarily control its direction due to circumstances that I do not wish to give away. Other situational dependent buttons are: B for braking; Y for acceleration; A to activate parts of the level. Sometimes you will be able to brake and not accelerate; sometimes you will have neither of those available and will have to use the A button to take care of things in the background. It all depends on what stage you are playing and what room you are in. It is a challenge presented without too many instructions, forcing you to experiment every time you find a new area. It should be mentioned that X is always able to force a re-spawn.
Sometimes you have to adjust your frame of mind.
The controls aren’t the only variable that will engage your mind. There are 10 main levels which are each broken down into sub-levels. Each sub-level usually spans across three screens. A lot of times, puzzles present themselves on one screen. However, at other times, the puzzles may actually span across the whole area – forcing you to really pay attention to the relationship between each of the three screens (because, of course, you can only look at one at a time).
Level design is very important in any game, but in NightSky it feels like the heartbeat that drives the game; it’s also impossible to talk about level design without speaking to the graphics as they go hand in hand. It is obvious that great care was taken in the crafting of each screen of the aforementioned 10 main levels – they feel like works of art that challenge your mind to expand and evolve. Even as the levels increase in complexity, they still feel basic – almost natural, subtly progressing from one stage to the next like flowing water. Foreground elements sit in sharp relief against what feels like an ancient world of some kind. Games like Limbo and Out of This World strike a similar chord as NightSky, with subtle animation breathing life into otherwise motionless landscapes.
Sound is also simple and beautiful; the music fits well with the strange and wonderful landscapes, unobtrusively playing in the background. I thought that perhaps the music was attenuated during the main parts of each level, as it felt that the volume increased during the completion screen for each level. However, I was wrong. The music fits so well that it almost becomes a part of your game-play: you notice it without noticing it. It is one of the most effective scores that I have ever experienced.
“My God. It’s full of stars!”
I was surprised to find that re-playability is actually strong with this game. There are a number of hidden areas throughout the game that correspond to “stars” on the bottom screen (to help indicate that there is a hidden room). These hidden places are tricky to get to; but finding them will take you on a different path and open up an additional level at the end of the game. Additionally, there are two difficulty levels (the second one being quite difficult by limiting what you can do with the sphere), giving you at least two full run-throughs.
NightSky is an elegant and beautiful game in which all of the various senses coalesce in one place to create a masterful physics puzzler. A friendly learning curve, responsive controls and challenging puzzles combine with beautiful visuals and sound to create a fantastic experience. This game is available on the Nintendo E-Shop.