Space, the final frontier. Especially when you are a poor astronaut captured by some alien presence. All they want to do is have fun with you. Which means rolling you around in a ball, over and over again. Surely they can’t keep this up forever? Oh look, a skeleton. That’s not a good sign.
Nebulous is a puzzle game which see players getting a hapless astronaut, trapped in a bubble, from his starting position to the end warp gate. They do this by placing ramps, conveyor belts, fans and a myriad of other items which push, blow or fling the spaceman around the play space.
Of course, certain parts of each level spell annihilation. Hit the level boundaries, vaporised astronaut. Touch an electric node, vaporised astronaut. Place obstacles the wrong way so he gets stuck, yep, vaporised astronaut.
Luckily, after each vaporisation the spaceman reappears again in his starting position. Which is good news for him, because he is going to explode a lot. Don’t feel too sorry for our interstellar friend though, as he has a massive ego, and a sarcastic tongue to match. Make a mistake and he will let you know just how stupid he thinks you are.
The game is divided into four ‘Galaxies’, with ten levels in each. It can’t be said that someone didn’t earn their pay check, as each galaxy is imaginatively named A, B, C or D. Each galaxy amps up the difficulty, introducing new obstacles, buttons or screens.
Each level is a series of screens, one or two in the first galaxy, though quickly blowing out to five quite regularly in the later galaxies. Each screen is arranged around a central point. So basically, you are looking at them from the inside of a giant cube, each screen being a side. The sixth side? The menu.
Players interact with each screen by clicking highlighted objects and placing them within the area. The astronaut can be activated at any time, which sends him careening into your Rube Goldberg Machine-like arrangement of objects. As levels progress, additional bubbles, complete with skeleton occupants, are added.
Nebulous is one of those rare games that do an equal amount of things right and wrong. The premise is great, a snarky astronaut who is subjected to a baffling series of puzzles beyond his control. Then there is the astronaut himself, who has a lot of character and attitude, which is quite refreshing. Some of the puzzles are downright fiendish, but not impossible, and can be completed with a little perseverance and endurance.
There is a really great progression, too. Elements are gradually introduced so that you get an idea for what they are and how they work. This complexity of elements increases with each level, until you are arranging a satisfying physical symphony of rolling, bouncing and spinning.
However, much of this is counteracted by the parts that don’t work. As puzzles become more complex some screens become cluttered with obstacles. When placing them these obstacles don’t ‘lift’ from the screen, so a lot of time is spent trying to jam pieces between other pieces to move them to where they need to be.
The mechanics obviously rely on a physics engine, but this system can’t consistently reproduce an action. A ball may bounce in a certain arc three times, to be sent in a completely different one on the fourth. This particularly becomes a problem when you are trying to focus on a certain screen, and the astronaut suddenly and unexpectedly gets killed elsewhere, on an obstacle he was clearing only moments before.
While the multiple screens are a great idea, how you move between them is quite limiting. You switch between them by hitting arrow buttons on the sides. However, it is quite easy to get lost, particularly when you are trying to navigate five screens to look for a particular bouncing ball. It would have been good if players had been provided with an overview of all screens when the astronaut is active, or some other way to easily track his progress through each run.
This is compounded by the fact that, in some cases, the astronaut unexpectedly reaches the warp gate, or that you might just be really impressed by how you moved the ball around the screen that time. Either way, you would like to see exactly what happened. The game does offer a Replay button once you complete the level, but it doesn’t work. All it does is generate a hyperactive hellscape of skeletal balls repeatedly flying around the screen. I wish that was an exaggeration.
There are a host of other small, niggling problems, but they aren’t worth mentioning when such major issues are already rearing their heads, which I really think is a shame because there is a lot in Nebulous to like.
Nebulous isn’t unplayable. Far from it. But it seems to lack that next step, that attention to detail, which would take it from ‘curiosity’ status and push it to ‘good’. A lot of thought has gone into how the levels are arranged, the obstacles in your way, and even the feelings the space theme illicit. But these are all let down by some half-baked execution of ideas and options.
SUMMARY: If you love really taxing or physics based puzzles, then you are going to enjoy Nebulous. But if you are looking for a relaxing puzzle game to occasionally boot up for the challenge, look somewhere else.
Nebulous is developed and published by Namazu Studios and available now on Steam. It is VR compatible.
Reviewed On: PC
Review System: nVidiaN9600C, G1 Sniper M7 S1151, 16GB RAM
Playtime: 7 hours