In Disney's Wreck It Ralph, released a
couple of weeks ago, the protagonist ended up blurting out “When
did video games become so violent and scary?!”. But while there has been an emphasis on guns and explosions
in recent times, not all video games have taken that route. Some
developers have opted to go down a different path entirely, creating games
that have more ambient and peaceful natures; the PS3's Journey and Wii downloadable platformer LostWinds
are great examples of this, with new release NightSky joining their ranks. Originally announced in 2007, NightSky's had something of an arduous development, with a WiiWare release having been announced, delayed, and eventually cancelled, before giving up on Nintendo altogether, and releasing on the PC instead via Steam. But the wasn't the last we heard of it. Now (sort of) returning to its roots, NightSky has been released on the 3DS, bringing with it it's own intuitive, puzzling experience which, while not quite as
relaxing as a spa trip, is still calm enough to soothe and entertain
you. This, quite simply, is NightSky.
So what is it all about? NightSky is a puzzle game based on physics, in which you navigate a black sphere through a series of levels and obstacles. There are no enemies to fight, no time limit to stress you out, not even really a story to worm your head around; NightSky is one of those games that is entirely at your own pace. You can play one level at a time or breeze through consecutive levels at once - it really is up to you. The game strikes a superb balance at settling you into itself; tutorials don't hassle you but never leave you clueless as to what you should do next. New features are brought in one at a time and ensure you have a full understanding of them before you proceed to the next stage. In fact, in a world devoid of real enemies, it's the physics that become your real obstacle, as you'll have to use everything at your disposal to complete the stage.
As it turns out, a black sphere is actually capable of many things. For instance, some levels simply require you to roll towards the exit with a simple left and right push of the Analogue Stick. Quite a few require you to give large circles a simple nudge to reach the goal, which can be as simple as bumping into them. Or maybe you have to beat that large circle to the goal before it takes out a platform you need to ride on to reach the end. In some stages, you'll have to ability to speed up using the Y button (but unfortunately you can't turn the sphere into Sonic the Hedgehog, sorry kids) if you need to get to a specific point fast, or you can make your sphere incredibly heavy if you need to pull up pretty sharply with a press of the B button. Some levels even let you lift the sphere up into the air when gravity isn't present. This in particular is great fun, especially when you have to make use of a rolling cart, or even fly through the skies with your powers, carefully manoeuvring yourself past obstacles to make it to safety.
It helps that everything about NightSky looks bewitching; dandelions, giant trees, windmills, giant circles with tunnels in them, loop-de-loops, nearly everything is coated in black, with a simple backdrop of colour, often mixing in with another colour. This is simple design, but all the same eye catching and never visually overloading. They do have consistancy with their area as well; Murky Depths has an green background to highlight it's forest presentation, while The Void, a level inspired by outer space, has a dark blue background which goes hand in hand with the shining stars. And even moreso, the music is calm, and while perhaps a bit too quiet at times, it manages to fit with the environment well. Background, design, music and colour all combine to make a soothing experience; you're likely to really feel at peace playing this game.
However, some might find that at odds
with the game's nature. While failing a level doesn't result in a
game over and you can retry with a quick press of the X
button, it is unavoidably frustrating when you end up missing a
platform. With that
said, it's ultimately the good kind of frustration; where you
memorise your shortcomings and go back and try again. Fell off a platform you didn't expect to drop? Just speed up
on it next time to get off before that happens.
In fact, NightSky's biggest issue is probably it's length; especially combined with the asking price of a whopping £8.99. You'll likely breeze through it in a few hours, and while there are features to offer replayability (finding stars in each level as well as an unlockable Alternative Mode for advanced players) there ultimately isn't enough to justify such a large price. Another issue is the disappointing lack of any touch screen use; this may be a port and suitable for a handheld due to the fact you can play it in short bursts. However, it would have been great to see a few new levels that allowed you to travel downward as opposed to always right. And while NightSky is easy to pick up and play, it's not quite for gamers who desire something more to their games, such as enemies and bosses. But those who adore a title at their own pace, and one that is able to immerse you despite holding such a simple premise, will fall in love with NightSky.