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NightSky - 3DS Download Review

Game Info

3DS Download | Nicalis | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $9.99
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19th November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Those at the heart of the videogame industry tend to dole out praise for games that feature emotionally-charged narrative, even when the framework may be of questionable merit. In light of the debates that surround the culture, honing in on innovative concepts and perhaps artistic aptitude as basis for acclaim are what continue to serve as certified indications of the medium's growth. But it's always that much more shaping, that much more effectual, when these links come out of left field from areas not often recognized for creative resolutions. NightSky is one such endeavour that falls under this classification, demonstrating to be an excellent example in puzzle-platforming goodness, 
through its one-of-a-kind ideas and allure.

    With a hint of subtlety, NightSky invites players to manipulate a somewhat feeble and dense ball bearing, emitting the sound of a worn-out pot upon collision. Movement is controlled via the Circle Pad, with the face buttons being used to increase the speed of the ball's rotation, trigger a soft brake, and interact with marked elements. With attention being paid to velocity, physics and momentum, the game's worlds feature many slopes, inclines and high points to give life to these core mechanics. For example, after building up speed with the Y Button, you can produce an inverse in gravity allowing you to roll up or off walls located just after the apex of an elevated curve, all timed with a reverse directional push from the Circle Pad. Along the way, you'll discover there are other uses for these states of increased speed and applied weight that extend beyond what may initially be imagined.

    Playing with the theme of light vs. dark in its representation of both the object under control and the surrounding landscape, the game has a class to it that is down-to-earth rather than snobbish. It regularly makes use of contrast to captivate players whilst also forming a uniting aesthetic, one through which the game's distinctive qualities are primarily made manifest. The game's worlds are mounted according to a common make-up, one that feels very much like a guided tour. It's a bit tricky to explain without seeing for yourself, but it is individual scenes that form the physical whole. The flow, styles, and objectives usually differ from one another, yet it's still a consistent, pace-cautious model that doesn't create an imbalance or disconnect in the organization and general progression. So when you're in the middle of a chapter, you don't feel like you're being given detailed foreshadows of scenes to come, thus spoiling future surprises.

The design of the platforming often calls for precision and timing, demonstrated when you must, for example, slide across unstable platforms held up by chains. But nowhere will you ever feel the conditions were unreasonable or unprogressive. Envisioning each scene as being its own movie set, the puzzles that level out the platforming function almost like props but with a purpose above that of mere novelty. Many of these imbue the game with intricacy, and that in itself is great, but the terms the puzzles are governed by feel both organic and creative in the way they support your goals. Often you'll be asked to influence additional round objects of varying sizes that form support for bridges, add weight for teeter-totters, fill otherwise inescapable gaps, or even serve as temporary transportation. But this develops further, as seen when you must use flippers like in an on-the-spot game of pinball to guide one or more objects to a weight-sensitive switch, or to trigger the fall of an object that you can't reach the normal way.

    Bigger than all that, what I absolutely adored more and more was whenever the control shifted from the ball to a vehicle or contraption of some kind. These include wheeled pulleys, machines with wings, cars with slanted tops, balloon-equipped carriages, a giant robot, even a toboggan. All of these can be likened to the handiwork of a child with a knack for inventing, and I say that because they're not advanced in their look or design. It's because of that uncomplicated construction that the creativity shines through over the mechanical attribute of it all, in ways that not only sharpen the overall formula, but also provoke thought and capture that indie spirit I am so attracted to. Really, the puzzle component as a whole is one that propels players forward just as much as the platform-scaling does, but where it goes that extra step is by stamping points of attachment that individuals can directly connect with.

    It's really quite intriguing, actually, how the varied applications seen in each world make for a regular change in scenery. Each scene, which can often spread across multiple screens, is decorated with a healthy amount of discovery points, all to the backdrop of silhouetted objects, plant life, constellations, and shadowy figures that do you no harm. The use of 3D touches all of these and more, and more often than not it does add a visual touch that may not be arresting but is still attractive nevertheless. The visual horizon is complemented wonderfully by the soundtrack, which uses stringed instruments such as cellos, the mystique of wind whispers, and other lullaby-like sounds, not to put you to sleep but to involve your senses on another level. Both the visual dynamics and the sensitive audio are reminiscent of the sorts of tactics employed by Jason Rohrer in that it evokes similar lines of penetration. And while not intending to be driven by or project an emotional sensation, NightSky still manages to wedge its way into the minds of users through these methods to ensure it won't soon be forgotten.

With the almost experimental nature of the scenes players engage with and the way they're strung together, there was a point where it occurred to me how the flow serves a role not unlike that of an art gallery. Much of it gives the impression that scenic routes are being travelled, with sights to be taken in by. It's not loud from the perspective of the hook the puzzles strive for, but when it tries to do something playful and fun that will not only be enjoyed but remembered, it does so in a seemingly effortless manner. Even with some of the skill that is required and could cause younger fans to shy away from it, the pace feels so open that you can stop playing just when you start to feel your drive dampening, and still feel focused on overcoming that temporary wall upon your return. It is to be admitted that there are cases where unintended glitches arise that prevent you from completing puzzles as they were originally intended, but it's hard to draw up an argument against the game seeing as this can so easily be remedied by resetting the puzzle with the X Button.

    In terms of long-term appeal, there are a number of areas across the experience that feature open pockets that provide access to somewhat off-site areas for the chance to grab a secret star. And while it may not seem like much to put stock in for replay value, the puzzles, often being as memorable as they are, help provide base motivation for players to be excited by the idea of revisiting sections once again. There's also value to be seen in the secondary game mode that's catered to individuals who've already gone through the experience once already. So while there may not be hours and hours worth of content, it's still a satisfying purchase all the same.

    All said, NightSky is a puzzle-platformer fan's dream. A lesser game's execution might have resulted in some stagnation along the way, but it's impressive to see how the well-tuned design and creative ends prove to the contrary in this case. Nothing here is done to offset any lack of projection or expertise on the game's part. It channels serenity rather wonderfully, marrying this with puzzles that verge on being heartwarming. NightSky conscientiously proves to be a Zen-like creation that vividly leaves a lasting impression.

26/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 8/10 - Worlds divided into scenes, regularly presents new challenges while remaining cohesive, effortless execution and great control
Presentation 9/10 - Very attractive values that set a strong mood, soundtrack and visual effects are effective complements to the intriguing atmosphere
Enjoyment 5/5 - Very engaging especially if you're a fan of the genre, puzzles are very memorable, heartwarming and even nostalgic in places
Extra Content 4/5 - Lasts a good length, secret stars to seek out, additional game mode for experienced players, will definitely want to revisit

Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

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