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Pinball Wizard… NightSky [Review]

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Ahead of its PC/Mac release this Thursday, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Nifflas’ roly poly puzzle platformer NightSky.

The game has you rolling around as a mysterious orb through ten twilight-filled worlds, solving different physics-based challenges and uncovering secrets along the way. So how does the latest title from Nicalis stack up?

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After watching the beautiful intro, I felt right at home from the get go with the game and how it played. Similar to other puzzle platformers, NightSky offers individual one-screen challenges (occasionally more than one) combined together by variations of the title’s core gameplay mechanic to form the playable worlds. Each new level seemingly brings in another layer to this relatively simple mechanic, refreshing the player with new methods of completing puzzles.

The controls are solid and you really get a feel for controlling the sphere right away. Advancing through, the sphere obtains new powers that you’ll have to implement to progress to the next screen such as picking up more speed, becoming much heavier or even defying gravity — in some cases using these powers were actually enforced, which brought about its own set of challenges.

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The game offers a normal mode for more casual players that includes a tutorial and hints and an alternative mode with more complicated puzzles and no hints for those looking for a tougher challenge. Running through both I can say that I’m glad I made the normal run first as suggested. There’s a certain ambiance that’s lost in the alt mode behind my shouts and curses (the good “oh, you tricky bastard” kind.) Though if you do find yourself getting bored with normal mode, I’d suggest making the switch. It’s really a matter of preference, and a nice touch that the option was provided.

I may just be a victim of being to into the title’s genre, but I did notice a familiarity with almost every aspect of the game; that is, I feel like I’ve been through it all before. The game does an excellent job measuring up with any of the better puzzle platformers out there, but I never felt it presented me with anything mind-blowingly new when drawing comparisons to them. That said, the puzzles are still wildly creative in places and plenty of fun, it just never struck that “woah this is different” chord with me.

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As far as style, the game makes a conscious effort to soothe the player with both sights and sounds. The artwork is a treat for the eyes, using backgrounds with calmer, cooler colors and silhouetting the foreground including the surrounding wildlife and the sphere itself.

It’s also not hard to understand why the game received an honorable mention for Excellence in Audio in this year’s IGF as the diverse soundtrack, by composer Chris Shlarb, is quite excellent. At times the music is treated as a kind of reward upon completion of an area or by activating a puzzle’s solution, with the absence of music filled by the ambient sounds of ocean waves crashing against a shore. The result is an extremely harmonious buffet for your ears and really adds a tremendous amount to the overall experience of playing through the game.

You won’t get an argument from me against NightSky being a good game. The physics-based gameplay is tight, the songs are splendid and the art is simple yet gorgeous. If you’re a fan of platformers with a little more thought involved like Braid, VVVVVV and LIMBO, they’ll be plenty for you to like here.

NightSky arrives January 6 for PC/Mac and is pinned for WiiWare sometime down the road.

[NightSky]

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