NightSky is a load of old balls. No, really. It has regular balls, weighted balls, light balls, anti-gravity balls, balls that ping between pinball flippers and balls that power mechanical engines with their rotations. In the shadowy world of NightSky balls can be many things, often altering properties between stages. Only by tapping buttons and seeing how the ball responds can you see what type of sphere Nicklas 'Nifflas' Nygren's morphing dreamscape has cooked up for you.
The aim, we imagine, is to capture the mercurial nature of dreams. You know how one second you're running from the police and the next your legs are two giant Twiglets? Well, this is That: The Game. Cast in ambiguous silhouette and accompanied by ponderous acoustic twangs it's clear we're in profound art game territory. You know, the kind of fare that has beret-wearing bloggers writing dissertations about how it's all a metaphor for the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
Only it's not about the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The dissolution of the Soviet Union involved far less jumping over massive holes. At least, we think it did. You do a fair bit of hole-bounding in NightSky, with most levels asking us to build momentum in order to fling balls over death chasms or spin round rocky half-pipes. Into this, randomly insert anti-grav balls to flip the designs (and your stomach) and weighted balls to ensure those death plummets are extra plummety.
Bad Night's Sleep
It's this ever-shifting nature that turns NightSky to nightmare. Changing play style every 30 seconds rules out any kind of rhythm; one idea arbitrarily morphs into the next with no sense of escalation. The best puzzlers group ideas in order to push your grasp of them to daunting extremes: think of the progression through a Zelda dungeon, or the gradual arrival of goo types in World Of Goo. NightSky simply makes it up as it goes along.
Which isn't to say there are no cool ideas in the meandering muddle. A couple of giant pinball machine levels remove manual ball control and put us in control of shadowy flippers. Along with sequencing puzzles - timing switch presses in order to drop shapes into a makeshift catapult, say, or to use other projectiles to nudge the ball along - these diversions are more engaging than Nygren's simple platforming feats. Problem is, NightSky's aimless structure means there's always more dull platforming on its way.
It's strange to see some reviewers anointing NightSky 3DS' indie gem, a marvel to rival the Journeys, Braids and Limbos of the world. We don't buy it. Nygren is a smart developer with plenty of indie oddities to his name, but NightSky ultimately tries just a little bit too hard for its own good.
An aesthetic that aims for striking simplicity comes off as lifeless and flat. Puzzles are derailed by wonky physics. An attempt at storytelling - courtesy of a concept by Daisuke 'Cave Story' Ayama - never goes anywhere. Worst of all, it's very steeply priced at £9. Playing through the 10 worlds and their rejigged 'advanced' stages (less forgiving than before) takes six hours and gives little reason to return.
NightSky's biggest misfortune is that it's competing in a genre - perhaps the only genre - well catered for on the 3DS eShop. Gamers keen for puzzle platforming are better off with VVVVVV, Hydroventure or Mighty Switch Force.