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Nogalious (PC) artwork

Nogalious (PC) review

"It only looks like a good time."

Welcome to the town of Hack. We'll start our journey here, our mission to rescue our beloved daughter Mariet who has been abducted by the nefarious Darama. Another kidnapping, sure, but at least the kidnappee is not our girlfriend this time around, and at least Darama is a female evildoer. (And since she is the defacto tyrannical ruler of the Kingdom of Rusadir, we're blessed with a delicious play on words as a take on her name. Are you ready for it? Darama Queen!)

While you're recovering from that, I'll move on: you are Nogalious, the titular character and devastated father, who must venture forth from the opening town (if you can hack it) and make it past the irritating and oddly formed Zovach. Then it's off to conquer the cemetery and the stage-ending conundrum that is Grotton, then the castle and its near game-breaking boss Harmor. You'll be lucky to see beyond Harmor to experience the the underground dungeons, and finally the tower, where Darama awaits.

Nogalious sports an inviting 8-bit retro countenance, and some captivating tunes. If you get the warm and fuzzies from the kind of nostalgic trips that MSX-esque titles take you on, this game does the job, if you account for presentation alone. The gameplay ingredients all seem to be here as well: you can procure a sword, arrows for your crossbow, or a boomerang; you can guzzle a potion to shrink down in order to access hidden areas. There are shields to absorb a single hit (otherwise, and it's one hit and you're dead), mines to be laid at the feet of approaching foes, hints to collect, super jump boots to strap on, and dragon stones which must be found and used as currency to purchase entry to the later areas in stages.

Yes, all the ingredients for an awesome one-puzzle-per-screen action puzzler are here, but the cookbook has been lost. The game wants to be old school challenging, and that's fine. But there are lots of problems here. The controls don't feel precise -- in particular, jumping is floaty and sword hit detection is iffy. Lots of things don't make sense: you can't kill birds with your sword, but they'll fall to your shield. As mentioned, your shield only absorbs one hit, so once it's gone, the birds are back to being invincible. Luckily, bats can be killed (I found that out in level two, I think). Until they can't be (I found that out in level three). Inconsistency, as they say, is the name of the game.

The jarringly uneven difficulty curve across levels continues the trend. You're much more likely to die in the first level than you are in level two or three. The first boss, Zovach, is a towering, ugly mess. I assumed you had to jump to hit him in the head, but discovered by accident that you can swing from the ground and hit his head even though it looks like you shouldn't be able to. Anyway, he likes to swipe at you with lightning speed, randomly with his claws, and if you're close enough (read: you're in the process of trying to hit him), that's all she wrote. Of course, I did say randomly, didn't I? Because sometimes Zovach's claws don't come out to play at all, and he's an absolute pushover. You never know.

Stage two is a decent time, featuring none of the difficult and annoying jumps from stage one, and Grotton isn't so much a boss as it is a puzzley sequence which asks you to figure out in what order you must hit a set of tombstones, even while bats harry you overhead. The subsequent castle stage is a good time too, featuring hidden doors and bonus rooms and moving platforms and spikes -- the usual Indiana Jones adventure fare. But when Harmor rears his head, God help you.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've beaten Harmor before. Much like Zovach, you sometimes catch him in a good mood. And sometimes... well, sometimes you'll throw all five lives and all three continues at him before seeing the Game Over screen, and his unwillingness to go quietly -- if at all -- gets you riled up and hating the game. I actually visited the game's forum on Steam and noted that other players mentioned their trouble with him and I saw that the developers offered what they considered a solution. Mind you, it's what I had been doing all along: baiting his arrows up high and dodging low while simultaneously avoiding a massive sword strike that can only be dodged low. The thing is, sometimes Harmor cheats and fires low arrows while simultaneously swinging his sword. There was a beloved WWE event that describes this situation: NO WAY OUT.

The moral of the story here is not to allow Nogalious to fool you. It certainly looks the part, of nostalgia-stirring retro champion, and it gets the first bit right. The irony is that its flaws go a long way in reminding us of how many of the games that likely inspired it actually played, notwithstanding how we choose to remember them. But (accidental) historical accuracy at the expense of fun today is never the correct equation. Ultimately, you'll likely be better off limiting your Nogalious experience to its YouTube demo; the let down comes with the playing.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (August 27, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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honestgamer posted August 27, 2018:

I think your conclusions are quite fair, even as they doom the game to the "games I will never play" pile. I'm willing to forgive genuinely old games for flaws such as spotty hit detection or sometimes even boss encounters that seem to require more luck than skill. But a newer game shouldn't feature those issues, because technology has given developers ways to rectify them and because such wildly inconsistent design is not now and never has been a sign of great design.
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Masters posted August 29, 2018:

Hey dude, thanks for reading. Yup, I was willing to forgive all the flaws at the beginning because the game looked retro cool and had some great tunes, but then the flaws really started adding up. No thanks.

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