A while back, I put the call out for people to put Nimbus on their radar. It's the kind of independent game that nearly everyone who ends up playing it loves, but too few players are attracted to it in the first place.
Although, I suppose that description sums up a considerable amount of indie games. Even still, Nimbus is a delightful title that could surely use a boost in awareness. With any luck, this review can help the cause.
Developer: Noumenon Games
Publisher: Noumenon Games
Released: October 25, 2010
Upon first glance -- and especially if you are merely watching a trailer -- it might not be clear that in Nimbus, you can't just fly anywhere whenever you'd like. Your ship is constantly being pulled downward and losing momentum, but through the environment, you are able to get around this sad fact. Yellow-and-orange bumpers, for instance, send you shooting off in the opposite direction upon collision. There are also cannons akin to those Donkey-Kong-brand barrel launchers, speed-boosting trackways, and switches that shift the gravity to aid your quest. Of course, there are plenty of spiky blocks and other objects out to kill you, too.
What is your quest, exactly? The game begins with a mysterious floating eye monster snatching what I can only assume is the main character's ladyfriend. Yes, we're talking sentient ships here, people. (At least, that's what I gathered.) You are then immediately thrown to an old-school-style map screen, complete with branching paths in all of their glory. While I have not fully beaten Nimbus yet (it's quite hard), executing the relatively straightforward concept of getting your ship to the finish line -- and then smartly expanding on these basic foundations step by step -- seems to be the main emphasis here, not presenting an in-depth narrative. For most people, this shouldn't be a problem.
That seems to be the general vibe of Nimbus -- arcade-y throwbacks without actually straight-up copying older videogames. This manor of presentation is mostly subtle, and I'm sure many a player won't necessarily pick up on it right away. I will mention, though, that the first stage of Nimbus looks like Green Hill Zone's distant cousin; you simply aren't a reasonable human being if you don't find some joy in this.
From the score-centric, super tough difficulty to the save-the-princess story to the rockin' tunes themselves, everything about Nimbus is all so incredibly great for long-time gamers like myself. It's specifically worth pointing out that the soundtrack, which is catchy and memorable in a way that perfectly suits the game's retro sensibilities, continues playing seamlessly across various levels and the overworld map. This is good, because you'll be dying quite frequently in Nimbus, and the dream-like, soothing nature of the songs will lessen the pain of failure.
At one point, this game evoked the same oh-shit moment that Donkey Kong Country 3 did in 1996 with its last full level, "Rocket Rush." In it, the Kongs inexplicably enter a downward spiraling rocket, collecting fuel and avoiding (or burning) those damned bees along the way. About halfway through this level, you sort of come to a screeching halt, then begin blasting upwards.
What follows is excitement, and pure terror, as you realize your vehicle is moving entirely too fast for the number of obstacles you're required to navigate through. This is exactly how I felt playing Nimbus. Exactly. At all times. To the point where I did, indeed, just spend a paragraph in this review calling back to a mid-'90s platformer. That happened.
I casually mentioned above how scores are a big deal in Nimbus. Every level has a leaderboard for times, but after a while, it becomes clear that figuring out how to beat the levels -- forget doing so quickly! -- is a process in and of itself. Think Trials HD, which has sort of become the go-to example for this manor of hybrid puzzle/racing game. I distinctly remember beating an (at the time) exceptionally hard level, and thinking all was right with the world. It was then I noticed how the difficulty meter, which is a 1-10 scale, was only set at five for that area. Ouch.
While this is just one of those games that's meant to be challenging, I can't help but feel as if the controls -- arrow keys or WASD -- take more getting used to than they ought to. You use the left and right keys to rotate your ship, and press down to slow down. Gamepad support is offered, but at least when it comes to the Xbox 360 controller, the button mapping is, by default, pretty unusual.
And that should just about cover it, except for a few last-minute praises. Nimbus does what all good puzzle games do: it progressively builds up new mechanics on a level-by-level basis, with all of it ultimately culminating as a test to see if you've been paying attention. At the same time, its basic-in-theory concept expands without ever overly expanding. The point is never reached where the core game becomes too overwhelmed with unnecessary ideas and additions. The designers had a clear vision for this game, and they made sure it came into fruition.
For the majority of my time spent with Nimbus, I was under the impression that it was going to be $19.99 on Steam, and I was absolutely ready to recommend it at that price. As it turns out, the game is only $9.99. You'd be silly not to get it.
Score: 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)