Since it’s launch over a year ago, the Nintendo 3DS has only had a handful of games that have utilized the systems 3D capabilities in a way that didn’t seemed forced. It seems many developers have attempted to shoe horn it in on top of their existing titles but this approach has not added anything to the overall game experience and has typically detracted from it. Nicalis’ NightSky is not one of those games. This physics based puzzle platformer uses the 3D in a way that engrosses players in the games eerie setting and helps set the scene for puzzles that will have gamers scratching their heads.
NightSky tasks players with controlling a sphere as it tumbles through various settings with the objective of simply moving forward. The game attempts to offer a story through an initial presentation of cut scenes and poetry but it is rather thrown away. It revolves around a child finding a glowing sphere and then embodying it as he tries to progress through the game. At least that’s what I gathered from it. With nearly no referral to this initial set up throughout the game, it becomes rather pointless when the focus quickly becomes directed on the sphere and your progression through each level.
The main controls for the sphere are simple enough but with an added twist. In most games like this you point in the direction you want the ball to go and it rolls in that direction. NightSky makes an effort to point out that you are actually controlling the rotation of the sphere and not its direction. This idea at first seems obvious but as new puzzle mechanics are introduced the ideas importance becomes evident. For example, when gravity is flipped pressing right actually rolls the sphere to the left because it is upside down. As the game progresses it forces you to use a quick thumb to change the direction of the sphere as it tumbles through levels on both the ground and the ceiling.
The game eventually ups the ante by adding “vehicles” to gameplay. Yes, you eventually control vehicles as an inanimate object. This is achieved by dropping the sphere into a contraption that may have wheels or wings on it. By rolling the sphere in certain directions, certain gears and pulleys are activated on the vehicle and you begin to travel. Using the idea of rotation, the direction you are rolling the sphere in is not always the direction the vehicle will travel in. It definitely forces players to focus on what they are doing and remember all the rule sets of this world.
The face buttons also come in to play and gives players a few more abilities for their sphere. Simple presses can slow the ball down or even speed it up. This is of course useful for more precise control for some of the games tougher puzzles. Some puzzles incorporate bombs that players select using the d-pad and then press a button to detonate. The detonations will often help create paths to progress through a level. These added abilities are not always activated however. The game will often strip some or all away and make players get through levels using other means. With each level generally taking a minute or two, it helps to make each seem fresh and new.
The shining piece to NightSky is definitely its visuals as the black foreground contrasts with the neon lighted sky to create a somewhat dream state feel to the game. The audio is often ambient waves of water or a random sound that plays and only heightens a players focus on the world. There are even some odd looking creatures in the world that can’t be interacted with but who I couldn’t help but gawk at. The use of 3D only adds to these visuals and is what truly made me appreciate the game. The 3D adds a whole level of style to the game that the PC version just can’t capture. I can’t state it enough that this game is a must play just to see the visual flair that the 3DS adds to it.
With Nicalis nailing the visuals and adding some interesting gameplay elements to the typical physics based platformer, this game must be great, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t quite deliver on the gameplay side due to it’s muddled physics. Sure the game has a rather robust physics system that helps create some interesting puzzles but too often I found myself getting frustrated. Knowing where I needed to go and what I needed to do wasn’t enough because executing it was near impossible or just boiled down to chance. Unlike a game like Super Meat Boy where I felt in complete control and failure only came at my own actions, NightSky just began to feel inconsistent and at times unfair. Repeating puzzles over and over is only fun for so long and I often had to put the 3DS down and walk away to take a break. This may be what Nicalis wanted to achieve with the game but with NightSky being so “Zen-like” it was frustrating.
Throughout the game experience players will eventually learn to handle the games physics and in the end it does deliver a memorable experience. I would probably recommend NightSky to 3DS owners looking for something new to play and for something to showcase 3D. At $9.99 on the 3DS eShop, it is a pretty good value. The game has some length to it depending on your skill and even gives players the ability to find stars hidden throughout certain levels that will only give completionists added incentive to replay. With it’s highly atmospheric visuals NightSky delivers a memorable experience that may not always be enjoyable but one that 3DS owners probably shouldn’t miss.