Quirky. Entertaining. Challenging. These are all words I would use to describe Namazu Studios' release Nebulous. It is a lightweight game that reminds me of the mobile hit Cut the Rope, but with more sophistication. The end result is a decent game that will chew up a few hours of your time here and there, but is never what I would consider a great or memorable experience either.
The premise is as simple and ridiculous as our hero's name: Commander Dash Johnson. Our intrepid space explorer winds up getting sucked into a wormhole that apparently leads to a wide variety of deadly traps in what can only be described as a physics-based action / puzzle game.
The reason it reminds me of Cut the Rope is because at its core Dash starts at the top of the screen and you release him. I find it sort of funny that a game set in space relies on downward movement/gravity as its primary mechanic, but that is a minor bit of silliness. At the core of the game is the need to get Dash into the next wormhole so he can move on to another stage. As these types of games do, Nebulous starts simply enough by giving you platforms to move about so Dash can bounce and roll his merry way to the next stage. Things continue to get more challenging as all sorts of different forms of mechanized death are introduced. You learn to flip and flop Dash over and around platforms, magnets, treadmills, industrial strength air blowers and more.
Sometimes Dash simply gets stuck, lacking the -UMPH- to continue through his path. Other times he will wind up smashed or incinerated along the way. Mercifully loading is at a minimum so trial and error is encouraged without the error portion of the equation being heavily punished. There is even a nice feature that allows you to speed up the tumbling and fumbling part of the process, which I was grateful for. Speaking of failures, Dash is an annoying little bugger. In the attempt to infuse him with some personality, he is mostly just a smarmy jerk who regularly insults you after your failures. There is even a trophy for having heard all of his insults. Some of them are actually pretty funny, while others miss the mark, but at least it infuses the game with a bit of personality for better or for worse.
At its absolute best, Nebulous deserves credit for its open-ended approach to puzzle solving. There is no 'right answer' for stages, and I like the feeling that a successful experiment provides. The puzzles are challenging but never feel unfair, though one could argue that the overall difficulty ramps up too quickly. This is likely due to the game being a relatively short one and not having the number of stages truly necessary to gently ramp the challenge up, but it is notable here and there. The star system also feels somewhat hollow, urging you to not just get it right, but get it right better and faster. Instead of true replay value, it winds up just grinding my gears a bit on some stages. It is almost like: Nice job! Congrats! Now, do it better...
Also, it is worth noting that the game was clearly designed with PC in mind, with a point and click interface that is likely necessary for the way the puzzle pieces on the stages are moved about. That being said, the controls often feel clumsy and imprecise with a PlayStation 4 controller, so there is room for improvement here as well.
All in all Nebulous is a brief but fun puzzle experience that should appeal to casual gamers. It almost feels like a mobile game, reminding me greatly of Cut the Rope. The human pinball (right down to multiple panes that Dash can bounce back and forth to at times) that is Dash makes for a quirksome protagonist, and in truth you don't really care about him or his adventures so much as getting to the next stage to see what Namazu Studios is going to throw at you next.
Article by Nick