Nova-111 offers an interesting gameplay style for a puzzle game, but with stages that drag on for too long, it wears out its welcome quickly. Almost as much as Dr. Science would.
Developer: Funktronic Labs
Publisher: Funktronic Labs
Release date: 25 August, 2015
I’ve had Nova-111 (N111) in my library since April 2016 when it came up in the monthly Humble Bundle. I just never got around to playing it beforehand, and decided that it was a game that warranted me getting to it by this point. It’s hard to remember after a few years, but I believe what made me want it in the first place was its adequate reviews, and the general sense that it’d be a good puzzle game. Even if it wound up not being so, after 4 years, I still wanted to play it and find out.
N111 is a bit atypical as far as puzzle games go. You control a spaceship that moves on a grid system, with the general goal of finding stray scientists, but primarily to get to the warp at the end of each area. Instead of being able to see the entire environment and having complicated puzzles based on a strict turn number, it’s more exploratory and open-ended, leading to it feeling like a blend of puzzle and adventure game. This is further emphasized by the number of enemies you have to contend with in each location, with them serving as your primary obstacle as opposed to complex problems. As you obtain new abilities, with enemies picking up new tricks of their own, in their own sense they do become puzzles to solve.
One of the key dynamics of N111 is that each movement you take progresses 1 turn, with enemies taking their actions after you do. Typically, this means that you indirectly control their actions, as their behavior is based on factors such as how close you are and whether they can attack or not. Some enemies though will use an attack that is time-based, so you’ll have to respond quickly regardless of how many turns it takes, or else you’ll be damaged. As you face situations where both enemy types are in the same area, you have to think on your feet to figure out the best way of handling the problem. Unfortunately, there’s not enough variance in the types of enemies and situations you encounter for this focus to not get stale by the time you’re finishing the game. I think more attention should have been spent on environmental puzzles, as though there’s some exploration with different puzzle mechanics, it fades behind all the enemies you face.
You can play N111 with either a keyboard or controller, and I went with a controller myself. Movement is controlled with the ‘D-pad,’ and to skip a turn, hit the ‘A’ button. The game shows that pressing ‘R bumper’ will place a polygel bomb, though in actuality you can press any of the ‘shoulder buttons’ to trigger this. To active 1 of your 3 science abilities, you’ll hold down either ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ or ‘B.’ These activate a laser-beam, 2 tile jump, and temporarily pauses time respectively. I never knew about this my entire playthrough, but hitting ‘Select’ will bring up a map of the area.
Although there’s quite a bit of dialogue in the game, the story of N111 isn’t that clear. There was some kind of experiment involving space-time that went predictably awry, it led to all of these strange circumstances occurring, and you are piloting a ship to save a bunch of scientists. However, it doesn’t even indicate who you are, as you’re completely unnamed or unspecified, so it’s not clear how you fall into the big picture, in spite of your incredibly vital role. Even when it’s all over, there’s no indication that things returned to normal, so I have no idea how it all turned out in the end.
Even though the game is composed of a grid-based system, the tiles you move around on aren’t just a repeating pattern of the same blocks over and over. Instead, these seem to be translucent, as you see a background with different gradients based on which part of the game you’re in. This creates a much more interesting environment to look at, which worked just fine as it was always clear where the tiles I could move around were. I never got confused by the dimensions of how much space the next square would take up or mistook a wall for a place to move.
Most of the music in this game is mellow, which is appropriate for a puzzle game. I’d say that it has somewhat of a unique flair, as it doesn’t seem to use typical instruments for its basis, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint what was used to compose it. Either way, I find the tracks enjoyable and relaxing. The sound effects are fairly straightforward, as there’s only a few actions that require a sound effect, such as smacking into walls and enemies.
- After beating the game, you unlock New Game + which opens up several options you can toggle on or off. For instance, having unlimited polygel and science, so this would be a good opportunity to aim for achievements. However, you’d have to play the game over again from scratch.
- With new abilities and health upgrades to unlock, there is a sense of progression in the game.
- I found the audio/visual design of N111 to be a strong point of the game.
- Most of the game is too simple to be that interesting. The situations and puzzles you encounter usually aren’t that difficult to figure out, they’re just time consuming. The most fun I had was with the last 2 bosses, which actually made me pay more attention and think out what to do. Otherwise, I basically went on auto-pilot.
- Each stage is made up of multiple sections, which makes replaying them a huge pain. I don’t want to slog through so many areas just to find 1 missing scientist. There’s no reason stages shouldn’t have been broken up more.
- I understand the point of an idiot sidekick, but I found Dr. Science to be utterly pathetic. I really have to wonder how he got involved with this matter to begin with.
- Unless you’re trying to get a high ranking on the leaderboard, there’s no rush in approaching the obstacles you encounter. Slow and steady is usually the best policy, except in a few instances where enemies rush you or you have to flee from waves of fire.
- Enemies behave very consistently, so once you figure out appropriate ways to handle them, you’ll always know how to address them again.
N111 didn’t play quite how I expected it to from the trailer, but it still had an interesting control scheme and mechanics for its gameplay. Based on how long it took to complete, I was surprised when I double-checked and saw that there were only 18 stages in total, across 3 worlds. This is misleading though, as each stage is comprised of multiple areas, so it really plays out more like there’s around 40-50 stages. However, due to some of the design choices, I find that N111 was a let down and more of a game to grind through than enjoy. Having shorter levels that would have had more intentionality and variance in the puzzles and situations would have been a better outcome. Though I find the options available in New Game + interesting, by this point I have no desire to test them out and keep playing. With everything in mind, I can’t recommend this game.