Review: NightSky for Nintendo 3DS eShop

NightSky is an interesting experience, as video games go, and I can’t recall another game I’ve ever played quite like it. Billed as a “Physics, Puzzle, Arcade, Platformer” and “action-puzzle” game, it certainly features light shades of other games, and the art style isn’t exactly unique, but what it does overall is quite enjoyable and rather memorable.

The premise is rather interesting, as a young man at the beach comes upon an unusual sphere with a strange glow and presence. He takes it home with him, and begins having dreams about strange places and experiences involving the sphere as it goes about a journey. And this is pretty much the last you see of any sort of story or narrative for a good long while.

Visually, the game might remind some of the Xbox Live Arcade title Limbo, or the silhouetted portions of Donkey Kong Returns, among others. It’s a twilight/nighttime atmosphere which casts everything in shadow, and it’s accompanied by rather ambient and relaxing sounds and music by Chris Schlarb, an experimental jazz musician.

There are 11 levels, each divided up into different areas across a variety of landscapes, such as the beach, mountains, ruins, a factory, and more. Your progress is saved automatically as you clear each area, and you can return to earlier areas if you wish. It all blends together rather seamlessly, like one continuous journey.

For those wondering, the 3D adds a bit of depth, but is hardly necessary. Similarly, the bottom screen does not play a huge role; most of the time, it merely displays the name of the level you’re on along with the ever-spinning visual of the level-filled globe from the title screen.

The gameplay is, for the most part, quite simple: You want to take the sphere from left to right, and you do so by pressing the corresponding direction on the D-pad or Circle Pad to do so. However, you’re not controlling the sphere’s movement; rather, you’re controlling the direction it’s spinning in, which becomes an important distinction as gravity is reversed, or the sphere becomes a cog in a vehicle-like machine.

Different areas will provide you with different abilities as well, each triggered by one of the face buttons and explained by a short bit of text at the bottom of the screen. B is always a sort of “slow down/hold still” button, which is handy when you need precise control of your movements. Other times, the Y button may reverse gravity, or it can accelerate the sphere, allowing it to roll up curved walls to launch itself where it needs to be.

Other areas will allow you to control certain gadgets spread throughout, and you’ll have to figure out how to use them to get to where you need to go. One example includes detonating platforms to move wheels or other spheres around for you to move on, or platforms to form a bridge. Then there are areas where you don’t control the sphere at all, and must use the left and right directions to control pinball-styled flippers to propel the sphere where you need it to go.

NightSky pulls off an impressive trick by managing to remain engaging while still being relaxing. There are creatures which do inhabit the land, but they are merely observers of your strange and mysterious journey, and don’t interfere. “There are no enemies, no bosses, and no violence in NightSky,” says the promotional blurb.

Saves are automatic, and there is no limit to the number of lives you possess. Meanwhile, you can reset the level at any time if you happen to mess something up and need to retry. Your goal is to get from Point A to Point B, and the game gives you everything you need to facilitate that without feeling simplified, dumbed-down, or coddling.

In the end, it’s all a matter of your own patience and persistence allowing you to get through the day– er, night. Of course, if you want a greater challenge, the game is willing to accommodate you with a second “Alternative” mode with a higher difficulty level.

If there is one complaint, and it’s a minor one, it’s that it can sometimes be difficult to tell what you’re supposed to do when you reach an area, i.e. “you can’t stand on that” (as I learned was the case with the gears in the image above). Even so, it’s hard to get upset for more than a moment, since you can generally just try, try again. The only exception to this is when it occurs on a further screen of an area, and the mess-up sends you back to the start, which leads to retracing your steps.

Overall, there is little not to like about this game, so long as you aren’t looking for anything adrenaline-pumping. I definitely recommend giving it a shot if you get the chance, as it is fairly addictive and enjoyable.

NightSky was released for the Nintendo 3DS through the Nintendo eShop for $9.99 on October 25th, 2012. A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.