Despite keeping up with the indie scene, I had never heard of NightSky before Oculin assigned me to review itSo you can imagine my surprise when I found that it was created by the man behind both Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest, Nicklas Nygren. Both titles are very cool sidecrolling platformers that feel polished and look fantastic. NightSky has a lot in common visually with both games and a bit concept wise with Within a Deep Forest since you are controlling a ball in both games. NightSky really explores the concept of momentum and rolling in a platformer rather than jumping and makes it fun in the process.
Visually, NightSky is both whimsically dream-like and a bit dark to behold. All platforms you can interact with are black and the background is usually a soft gradient of both cool and hot colors peppered with glowing stars. There are silhouetted trees and creatures that move and blink but you cannot interact with them. The creatures are mostly alien looking with the occasional familiar shape such as a Snake thrown into the mix. The look drives home the concept of a dream world better than a lot of games out there and consistently changing environments keep you from becoming too familiar with how things look. It feels very stark and the heavy contrast makes it visually impressive while making platforms easily distinguishable.
The Soundtrack by Chris Schlarb is a great mix of ambient noise with the occasional bit of acoustic guitar, drums, and a number of other instruments playing away at a soft melody as you try to solve the numerous platforming and manipulation puzzles. Nicklas Nygren also implemented one of my favorite features which is that the music is separate from you restarting a level. No matter how many times you have to restart the music will continue regardless. While this may seem like a small thing it really keeps the flow of the game constant. The actual sound effects are primarily gusts of wind and the marble like sound when your ball bounces off of platforms. NightSky’s sound effects feel minimalist only having them where necessary for the feel of the game.
NightSky is a physics based sidescroller at its core. Perhaps taking some bits from Edmund McMillen’s classic Gish with the way it treats physics as a function of the platforming. Gish was about a loose ball of tar gaining height through weight distribution while NightSky focuses on a solid ball and rolling without the need for a jump button. There are 5 basic abilities that may be available to you in an area: Speed, Brakes, Reversing gravity, Pinball Flippers, or activating special green objects on the screen. You never have all of these abilities at once. Instead of just giving you a move set and letting you get used to it, NightSky gives and takes on a whim. While this may seem odd at first it really sets the pace of the game much higher and keeps the game from ever feeling repetitive. NightSky never lets you play around with an ability set long enough to get incredibly used to it. At most you might be using it for 3 or 4 screens before moving on to another style of play. For instance you might make it through a precarious platforming sequence only being able to use brakes and then get thrown into a sequence that resembles a pinball machine where you have no direct control over the ball only the flippers. The control and abilities may be constantly changing but two things remain the same throughout. The puzzles are about Momentum and the goal is always to exit to the right of the screen. As with most physics based games the controls tend to feel a bit loose. After a while you will get a hang of the momentum of the ball and how it bounces, but there will often be instances when you will do the exact same motion but get a different result. There are also times when you can brute force past some of the puzzles passing by some cool larger timing based sequences. Most of the puzzles are fun and some can be quite challenging.
There isn’t much as far as plot goes. Just two series of still images with subtitles that bookend the first and last levels of the game. A teenage looking boy is on the beach when he notices a glowing orb lying in the sand, which immediately reminded me of Heavy Metal. This orb seems much friendlier then the evil human disintegrating orb from Heavy Metal. The boy takes the ball home after becoming enamored with its glow and goes to sleep. The game itself takes place inside the boy’s dreams of odd, surreal landscapes that he infers are being caused by the orb. The images are gorgeous and it seems like an elegant way of the giving the game some simple plot.
NightSky is a short and cheap game. It will only run you about $10 U.S. on PC and the main worlds will probably take you about 4 hours to complete. When I beat the last world I felt contented with what the game had offered, but the game definitely had some more. There are stars hidden in each world for you to find that unlock more challenges in the last world. The last world also changes the style of the art and sound significantly. It feels a lot like a star road style thing where Nicklas Nygren felt like he could have some fun. In addition to this extra area, NightSky also has an advanced mode. The advanced mode takes out all instruction and tweaks the puzzles slightly resulting in a much greater challenge than normal mode. It definitely pays off adding some extra content for any players who wanted more after completing the game.
NightSky is a beautiful game that doesn’t ride solely on its style to keep you interested. It feels like it fully explores its initial concept and proves to be both fun and challenging. The music is never stressful but it’s still interesting to listen to. It never gets in the way of you trying over and over to solve a sequence. In fact, the music aids in the same way that calmer music aids any kind of problem solving.
You can find the game on Nicalis’ website. The game is currently $7.20 U.S. but will go up to $10 U.S. on Monday.
-Beautiful visuals that change throughout the game
– Some very clever puzzles
-Calm and Cool Soundtrack
-You can cheat past some of the puzzles