NightSky presents an interesting juxtaposition of atmosphere. It's set in a world of silhouettes cast against the soft, warming glow of the sky. Beautiful, if a bit foreboding because of the constant stream of darkness. Yet, at the same time, the game plays a low, relaxing variety of jazzy tunes, offsetting the slight disquieting nature of the landscape. It's that in particular which makes NightSky initially compelling, and continues to keep you around as the puzzles increasingly difficult despite temptation to give up as frustration slowly kicks in.
The name of the game here are puzzles; particularly those of the traversal sort. You play as a small black sphere that, for some unknown reason, rolls through varied locales like the wilderness or factories on a journey of some sort. Where it's destination lies is unknown. The only glimpse at story comes in the very beginning, where a cutscene shows the sphere being found on a beach somewhere by a young boy. He takes it, and since then he's had strange, vivid dreams involving the sphere. These dreams (I assume) act as the game's levels. There's 11 in all, each separated into 13 parts which in turn consist of three rooms per part.
Navigating these hazardous levels serve as the puzzle element. Momentum, gravity, timing, balance -- all those play an important role in solving puzzles. Just how much depends on the puzzle. If loads of ramps are involved, speed and momentum are undoubtedly key. Or, if there's a large bolder strategically placed just below you, chances are you need to balance on top of it as it rolls to reach the exit. And other times you need make use of certain machinery scattered throughout, such as removing blocks to drop bridges or firing rocks to push or knock over things. To help ease (or increase) the challenge, the sphere possesses a couple of skills: the ability to increase its speed and lower its weight, and the ability to slow its speed and up its weight, which are used by holding down the A and S keys respectively. You can't use these two on every level, however, as some puzzles lock one or both away.
|The way the sphere collides with things like chains exemplify the sophistication of the game's physics system.|
Unless you decide to play on the game's "normal" mode, discerning what those powers do would be... well, a much longer process. You see, the game presents two different difficulty settings: normal, which lends some tutorializing while delivering easier puzzles (mostly because the game almost always spells out the solution for you); and alternate, which drops the tutorial and brings much harder puzzles into the equation. The game actually recommends that you start on normal and play through alternate on a second play-through; unless, of course, you enjoy a strong challenge, in which case alternate is for you.
Though its nice that the game offers those options, NightSky is a game best played when you're discovering the solutions yourself. It dropping heavy hints removes almost every ounce of fun to be had. The complete lack of guidance alternate gives you has its hindrances, sure -- figuring out how I could those aforementioned machines was a mystery for me for much of the game before I happened to unexpectedly stumble upon the means of doing so -- but its a trade-off for what amounts to a more rewarding experience. NightSky is adept at making discovery feel noteworthy. Just understanding even the smallest and insignificant of tricks feels like a huge find. And when that trick becomes key to solving a puzzle, the sense of reward increases ten-fold.
The road to success is a long one. If played on alternate your first time through (like I did), you'll spend what feels like hours on any given puzzle as you slowly begin to understand the solution. Many a failure comes while you work out each room, and with that, eventual frustration. The game is very specific with how it wants its puzzles solved. Discerning what exactly it wants you to do takes a long time. It wears you down mentally considerably, frustration setting in quickly. To be clear, though -- that doesn't come from figuring out the solution so much as it does executing it. That's where the aforesaid specifics come into play.
|Beautiful backgrounds set a moody, yet calming tone.|
This is a game of heavy nuance. You have to be patient, learn everything you can about the environment before tackling it. Controlling the occasional vehicle, for instance, takes immeasurable patience, as they topple over at the slightest touch. With all the inclines that pepper the road forward, its easy to be driven mad by how sensitive vehicles can be. Figuring out the precise place you need to be to catapult yourself forward or launch yourself off a precariously balanced plank further foster that building rage NightSky often instills.
Though you'll definitely be infuriated by its taxing challenges, NightSky's atmosphere keeps you grounded. The calm melodies that rise and fade frequently, contrasting with the dark, moody scenery, ease your mind when on the verge of quitting in a fit of rage. Plucks of guitar strings instill a relaxing, homey feel, allowing you to keep your focus in spite of frustration. It's not often music has such an affect, usually acting as mere background noise to help set the tone of the location or events.
Atmosphere is NightSky's strongest component. The landscapes you traverse display a subtle beauty, the shadowy aesthetic bringing a touch of intrigue. The juxtaposition of relaxing music and gloomy visuals create an unusual mixture that suit the game's abstract nature perfectly.
You won't understand what's going on in NightSky, the prevalent ambiguity casting a large veil over any semblance of coherence. Even so, the devilish puzzle design and compelling world are reason enough to take a look at NightSky. It's challenges reward constantly, the rewards gratifying enormously. Satisfaction for puzzle solving may not be a new concept, but NightSky at least manages to make extensive and splendid use of it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”