NightSky (3DS) review
"Sometimes, the levels will blur together and proceed quickly, with little to no challenge. When the ball gets to rolling swiftly through these areas, you're offered a free and spirited look into the essence of Nightsky. It has come together; it meshes. I think NightSky would have been better suited not to be a puzzler; instead, perhaps it shouldn't have been a game at all, but rather an interactive story. Nicalis clearly knows how to tug at your heart, as all of the game's flaws will assuredly melt away when things shine the brightest. It's just a shame you have to go through much of tedious legwork to enjoy the otherwise glorious experience."
Once in a while, a game comes along that seems to elude; it etches its own trail of glory, and as such, is overlooked. In an industry where familiar spinoffs, blatant ripoffs, and a host of uninspired cash-ins are the norm, seeing something truly unique can be a bit off-putting to the common video game consumer.
That is what must have happened with NightSky, a downloadable eShop title for the Nintendo 3DS. I had never heard of the game before, and decided to give it a go based solely on the images provided by Nintendo. There are few, if any, games that can capture my heart without having stellar gameplay to go along with it; the gameplay is and should be the proverbial meat and potatoes of any game. Bucking that trend is NightSky.
The luscious, crisp visuals jumped out at me first, its black foregrounds and oddly alive backgrounds providing ample fodder for the imagination. But the perfectly paced and equally calming musical score is what turns NightSky's presentation into a masterpiece.
The game begins on a beach. Through artistic stills, the opening scenes show a boy who finds a mysterious glass ball. It glows with an earthly gentleness. The boy dreams about the ball, the meaning of said dreams seemingly open to interpretation. Thus begins NightSky. You control and maneuver the ball through the glowing landscapes, conquering physics and devious traps and pitfalls. It's a puzzler at its core, and you will indeed find yourself thinking of ways to best the game's various conundrums, but there are also incredibly strong elements of platforming that take center stage.
But this is not where the game shines, admittedly. Most of the gameplay is, sadly, a trial and error process. Many of the puzzles which must be solved are blatantly obvious, devoid of difficulty. Others are devilishly hard and require a healthy dose of do-overs. There are no penalties for death in Nightsky except restarting the puzzle. Each of the puzzles are bite-sized in nature, too, so it behooves you to take a stab from one angle, analyze the effectiveness therein, and try it from another angle if that approach was not ideal. My comfortability was never threatened.
It's likely this was exactly the effect Nicalis was shooting for in the game's development. More than a game, this is an experience. And that experience is only made possible through the wondrous musical score from Chris Schlarb. Without question, the audio presentation has a more profound effect on the game's overall enjoyment than any game I've played before.
At times, the score is smooth, ambient, and calmly dramatic. Despite the gameplay being rooted in utter stasis, the unmistakable feeling of progression is always present through the sound effects--rustling wind,
clangs from the ball hitting metal, or overtures of dread complimenting an aberrant silence. Producer Chris Schlarb has concocted a lively flow that emanates from the music, strongly prompting you to move on to the next section.
The stages are completed by reaching the end of the screen, and much like 2D games of yesteryear, doing so causes the image to shift to the next screen. Each screen is its own identity, and often times is accompanied by its own brand of audio. Despite the stilted manner in which the puzzles are presented, though, it still mostly manages to ebb and weave as one unified flow.
Using a near-perfect portrayal of physics, maneuvering the puzzles is very rewarding when the ball does what you want it to, but it often goes astray, causing frustration and a feeling of helplessness to set in. It very well may have been player error, but I found myself frequently making slight missteps (even when I felt like I did it perfectly) which resulted in having to restart the puzzle. While this doesn't necessarily detract from the overall experience in an egregious way, it does seem to slightly take away from what I believe is the developer's primary goal: complete immersion. Without any further hint of a story between the beginning and end of the game, NighSky inevitably has to put at least some of its weight on the gameplay itself, and this is where it continues to stumble.
There are numerous different hooks to be found while blustering across the irregular terrain , like the ability to alter or reverse physics, or even use the ball to control vehicles. After besting a puzzle which requires you to reverse the physics, work around various environmental hazards, and do all of this while in a vehicle, you do have an appreciation for the genius which sporadically surfaces. The problem is these moments are too few. Many of the vehicles have a jumping mechanic involved, which spices up the gameplay, and there are also switches which you can independently hit, causing all sorts of outcomes and puzzle-changing results. This still does not erase the inherent flaw of Nightsky, however; more times than not, you'll find yourself failing three or four times before the concept of what you need to do is clear. This is not only counter-intuitive, it's boring. At times, I found myself simply going through the motions, consciously aware of the fact I wanted to get through this screen to see what visual aura awaited me next.
Sometimes, the levels will blur together and proceed quickly, with little to no challenge. When the ball gets to rolling swiftly through these areas, you're offered a free and spirited look into the essence of Nightsky. It has come together; it meshes. I think NightSky would have been better suited not to be a puzzler; instead, perhaps it shouldn't have been a game at all, but an interactive story. Nicalis clearly knows how to tug at your heart, as all of the game's flaws will assuredly melt away when things shine the brightest. It's just a shame you have to go through much of tedious legwork to enjoy the otherwise glorious experience.
Part of what makes that experience so glorious is the edgy and gallant visuals, seeped in wonderful saturation and often starkly contrasting dissonance. Most of the worlds are generally dark, but this makes the spots that do have color seem to radiate that much more. There is a sort of still beauty found in the shimmering vistas and overly simplistic designs, and even sans the artful music would be a delightful diversion. In many of the stages there is wildlife to gaze at, eerily still yet fully alive. The backgrounds change depending on what area you're in, and they range from industrial machinery to effusive night skies. There is a mostly organic feel to the worlds you'll explore, and this falls nicely in step with the aforementioned audio.
With everything combined as a package, it's hard to not get caught up in NightSky's strengths. It's a beautiful game to the senses and does nearly everything right in this department. With the deficiencies present in the gameplay, however, it can cause distractions that certainly kill the mood. As a downloadable title valued at under $10.00, you can't go wrong here. You will most certainly get your money's worth. But when something comes along and hits the nail on the head with such affirmation in certain parts, you can't help but feel cheated when the other parts miss the mark with equal clarity. Buy this game and experience it; I stress the word experience. Nicalis is most definitely on to something here, and it would be a shame to overlook it because of some unrelated shortcomings. From a purely sensory perspective, NightSky is genuinely incredible.
Community review by Linkamoto (December 09, 2012)
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