Friday, 3 October 2014

Indie Nuggets #4

Nebula Retro (2013)
By: Simple Interactive Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: Android, iOS

I'm always on the lookout for the latest bright 'n' colourful platform games to wet my gaming whistle, so to speak, so you can imagine my delight when this one recently came my way. It consists of twenty-six floaty stages through which you are charged with guiding 'Blockman' who doesn't appear to be a man at all but a white square with a face on. He isn't the first platform hero to be handicapped by the absence of limbs though, and it seems to cause him little trouble here as he attempts to recover the 'Pearls of Blockoo' which are the numerous yellow blobs that occupy each stage. This is a simple enough process to begin with, made even simpler still by a handful of training stages before the game proper begins, but things soon start getting tougher.

This is down to the 'Scoundrels of Freem', the similarly squarish evil enemy creatures that patrol the stages, presumably guarding the Pearls that they stole. They move in very short, simple patterns and there are three types - red ones which move left and right, green ones which move up and down, and yellow ones which twirl on the spot. To begin with Blockman has no choice but to avoid them. He moves by sliding his limbless body around and by making use of his impressive jumping ability which, as well as being quite high, is also reasonably controllable too. He can slide up inclines just as easily as down and can even jump up vertical platforms but he moves with quite a bit of momentum so it's easy to slide off the end of a platform into the nothingness below.

Stages are initially very basic and little bigger than one screen but, of course, they soon start getting larger and more complex, taking on a much more puzzley nature. For example, there are several types of platform. Some are moveable while others have special surfaces with unique properties such as ice which prevents jumping, and soon you'll encounter your only weapons against the pesky colourful enemy oafs which are... blocks, believe it or not! Well, they're known as 'crates' actually, but they are very useful either way. As well as helping you reach higher areas, you can also push them around including off the edge of platforms where they will kill any enemy they touch. Care must be taken to use them in the correct way though, or you may screw up the stage.

Luckily you can take a zoomed-out look at the stage before tackling it in order to formulate a strategy, and you also get infinite attempts too, which helps make this a very addictive little game! The graphics are simple but sharp and colourful and the spacey theme is most welcome by an astronomy geek like me. The backgrounds consist of various planets (which remind me of Star Control 2) and you even get the glorious V838 Monocerotis star/nebula as a permanent, slowly-rotating backdrop, but if you prefer there are two other 'skins' available - 8 bit and Xmas! There are four nice techno/ambient tunes to accompany the action as well, but even more impressive is the existence of a level editor which allows you to mess around with any stages you've finished.

Getting through all the stages is no mean feat though. Touching any enemy at any time will return you to the start of the stage which can be rather irritating when you're nearing the end of a complex one, and control of Blockman can take some getting used to as well. He's very slidy and I had a small issue with his jump which is a little unresponsive at times, and hitting the edges of platforms can send him tumbling around all over the place. It's not all uphill though, as there are tips located on many stages, particularly those with new features such as 'anti-gravity' or 'rocket boost'. The appealing aesthetics and the small size of the stages mean it's not a game you're likely to give up on too quickly either, and also makes if perfect for the odd five-minute session. Oh, and did I mention that it's free? What have you got to lose?

RKS Score: 8/10

Download Nebula Retro for Android here or iOS here. PC version coming soon!

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