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Nova-111

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Funktronic Labs
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Puzzle/ Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

New and yet familiar, the visual style of Nova-111 blends looks like a mashup of Múbius and Saturday-morning cartoons from the '80s. Thereís a lot of depth to what is functionally a 2D puzzle game, with several layers moving behind your immediate surroundings as you explore. The oddities youíll find along the way are well designed, not only in their first impression but in how they animate. The motion of each object in the game lends a lot of charm to the proceedings, to the point that you feel genuinely rewarded for exploring your surroundings.

The gameís audio is sparse, but very effective. Enemies you encounter almost all have signature sounds to accompany their moves, and itís clear that a lot of thought was given to the way animation and sound effects work together in Nova-111. Itís no surprise that all the aesthetic pieces of the game hold together, considering the fact that game studio Funktronic has a track record up to this point of something closer to computer arts than traditional game development. Their attention to color, movement, and sound pays off mightily in Nova-111; itís a truly great experience that puts you immediately into the game world, invested in the outcome of one lonely little ship.


Gameplay:

Happily, the game holds up equally well from the standpoint of playability. Not just a pretty face, this one. Nova-111 reminded us somewhat of that indie classic, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Both have as their central character a lone ship in space, exploring treacherous territory against seemingly impossible odds. Where Nova-111 takes things in a different direction is in its adoption of turn-based mechanics. Donít start thinking this is a tactics game, because thatís not at all the case. Think more about Supergiantís Transistor, a game that evenly straddled real-time and turn-based gameplay. The turn-based approach in Nova-111 isnít even as strict, itís just a 1:1 relationship between your movements and the flow of time in the world around you.

Thatís right, nothing happens when you donít move, mostly. You can move freely in the gameís world, as you would in any action game. What at first seems like an exercise in running a maze turns into something much more complicated. Enemies begin appearing in greater number, obstacles to your progress appear, and environmental hazards force you away from easy paths. Itís not reflexes that help you overcome these challenges, but your brain, and some upgrades for your ship. You quickly see that each time you move, all the elements in the game world move along with you. This is the essence of Nova-111, the basis for all the puzzles, and the answer to almost all the challenges. Youíre scored on both the time it takes you to run a level and the number of moves (efficiency) you displayed in that level. To make it all more interesting, youíll find that some elements of the gameís world "break the rules" and operate in real time.


Difficulty:

By the time things feel really challenging, youíll most likely be wrapping up Nova-111. Itís a gradual ramp that teaches you each enemy and obstacle patiently, so youíre always feeling prepared for what the game throws at you. The most challenging moments tend to be self-inflicted, as you initially try to treat this as an action game. The first level with a boss is a great example. The boss, like its smaller cousin characters, moves in a turn-based way. All the same, youíll feel scared and start mashing buttons, trying to run away like you would with any boss. When it doesnít work, you come back to the idea of how you fought the smaller versions of this monster, and you eventually prevail by using your head instead of twitch reflexes. Nova-111 carves out a unique niche for puzzle games in the sense that some aspects just donít conform. In the beginning, youíll flit around levels because there isnít much danger or penalty for wrong moves. By the end, youíll feel more like youíre playing chess, with every single move counting for something.

Aside from the timing and the efficiency incentives, Nova-111 loads each level with secrets and unlockable powers for your ship. These can only be found by exploring, which ends up being inherently more dangerous than just powering through in search of a way out. Thereís not a big enough deal made out of how many items you gathered or missed at the end of a level, which feels like a missed opportunity in terms of motivating replays.


Game Mechanics:

Nova-111ís puzzle-game DNA betrays itself in some very simple controls at first, but things get more involved as you unlock abilities by picking up objects in later levels. All thatís needed initially is a way to move left/right, up/down and to pause. The pause or rest is key for timing in sections of a level where youíre waiting for an enemy to move past you, or possibly setting an enemy up for a trap. Nova-111 gives achievements based on some of the more creative kills and moves you can make during the game, such as causing two enemies to kill each other. Abilities you unlock later are mapped to the number keys, all of which are easy to trigger thanks to the real-time aspect of the game. Full controller support is also available if youíre playing that way.

The greatest sin of Nova-111 is that itís relatively short. Thereís a decent amount of gameplay and motivation to replay for achievements or higher leaderboards standings, but youíll lift your head up after a play session or two and find yourself 40-50% complete. Thatís unless youíre really taking your time on the first playthrough to find each and every secret item. How that leads you to feel about the gameís price point depends on whether you judge a game in those terms, but weíd argue that itís a worthy investment for a unique and entertaining game. Although it has some precedent as we noted earlier, Nova-111 stands out as an original and greatly polished title. If you like your puzzle games with a bit of action, or if youíre looking for a smarter action game, Nova-111 is made for you.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Minimum System Requirements:



Mac: OSX 10.8+; Intel i3 2 GHz or Greater; 300 MB RAM; 512 MB graphics card (shader model 2); 350 MB available space
 

Test System:



Mac: El Capitan 10.11; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7; 16 GB RAM; Intel Iris Pro w/1536 MB VRAM.

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