GDC 09: Night Game

Where many of the IGF nominees on the GDC show floor are downloadable from the official IGF finalist page, I wanted to play a couple that weren’t available for download, for whatever reason.

One such game by Nicalis, Night Game, appealed to me because it’d been worked on by Nifflas, the dude who created Knytt and Knytt Stories. After circling around the show floor a few times and asking a stranger to watch my laptop while it charged, I went to go play it.

You can read my impressions after the jump.

Night Game is a puzzle-platformer with incredibly minimalist graphics made up almost entirely of total blacks contrasted against somber-colored backgrounds. Deceptively simple at first, the game revolves around moving a black ball across the landscape and through puzzles by utilizing its weight and inertia to get over both simple geographical obstacles and complex machine puzzles.

On the one hand, I loved how real the ball felt — using the 1 or 2 buttons you can lighten or increase its weight, and the way it bounces and rolls across the environment gave me a real sense of the ball’s physical presence in the game world. When I made it heavy, it felt truly heavy. I have no real basis for comparison in my head other than maybe Gish, which allowed you to turn Gish hard and heavy* by pressing a button, and Night Game‘s ball character felt much more tangible than that.

On the other hand, the realistic physics can lead to a great deal of frustration in many of the puzzles. Whereas the other puzzle game I played earlier, Tag, was pretty good about making it incredibly easy to solve a puzzle once you figured out what you need to do, Night Game‘s intense physics focus meant that if you screwed up even a little — if you lightened the ball too early or too late, or if you allowed the huge block impeding your progress to shift just a little bit in the wrong direction after inversing the room’s gravity — you could be screwed and have to restart the room over.


Or, more correctly, you’d have to restart a section of rooms over. For no immediately evident reason, death in Night Game, as frequently and sporadically as it comes, is punished by making the player respawn at the not-frequent-enough checkpoints, undoing the player’s forward progress until they manage to get to the next group of levels. I died a couple of times because I thought that some of the solid black background elements were a part of the interactive foreground, and I was punished for this artistic oversight on the part of the developers by being forced to play a few rooms over again.

Don’t get me wrong — when Night Game clicks and you utilize the ball just as it’s meant to be, it’s satisfying as hell because you’re legitimately conquering physics that feel real and weight and unapologetic. Unfortunately, however, that makes it all the more disappointing when you aren’t doing well.

Still, whenever Night Game hits Wiiware I’ll definitely spend more time with it and hopefully find out that my initial frustration with it came purely from my own lack of skill.


About The Author
Anthony Burch
More Stories by Anthony Burch