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Sweet, another puzzle game that is sort of like Peggle, but mixed with a sort of light Rube Goldberg-mechanical building game.  Kind of.  Right?  I don’t know, but I was super excited for Nebulous.  As you may know, this genre is something I’m very interested in.  It’s taken me a while, but I think I finally have my thoughts on the game down.

The game starts off with Dash Johnson out in space attached to his ship by a tether when suddenly he gets sucked into a portal that appears out of nowhere.  From there, he’s on a mission (with our help) to find his way back, once again through portals.

You’ll get to know Dash pretty quickly, but you may come to regret that just as fast.  See, there’s just no easy way to put this.  Dash is a dick.  A major dick.  He’s rude.  He’s cocky.  He feels everyone around him is a moron and he’s the only good thing to happen to the world.  It’s actually pretty funny, and I feel like he’s the best part of the game.  He’s constantly mocking you with every mistake and the insults range from deserved fun to out of place, semi-odd name calling.  While I do genuinely feel he’s the best part about the game, some of his dialogue just feels way too forced.  Some of the phrases he utters just aren’t funny, but in the “trying too hard to be funny” way.  Still, I’ll take a bit of the bad to get the majority of the good from his humorous diatribes.

 

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Easy-peasy, right? Maybe. Just maybe.

 

The game is set up with a 3 star puzzle system, as is all the rage these days, but you don’t actually have to get any to progress, though obviously it is a goal you’ll want to at least try for.  How many in level stars you collect, how many tries you took, and how long it took you also factors into this rating.  After a while, you may wind up forgoing trying to accomplish even 1 star just to get to the next stage.  As I started, I found myself being intrigued by the way the main menu moved and controlled.  Just a small little thing.  Once I got into the game and realizing that this is how the whole game controlled, I kind of lessened my enjoyment of it.  I felt fine in the menus, but having the whole screen tilt while I’m tasked with moving objects into positions to guide Dash along just felt too off for me.  I don’t know how to explain it, honestly.  It just didn’t capture me for actual gameplay like I think it was supposed to.  If this were being played in VR, I would probably have a different stance, but it’s not how I (or most of us) will play it.

On the subject of the specific objects you can move around, I found them to be a chore to manipulate.  You don’t get to alter how they are orientated, just where they are placed, which isn’t really a big deal.  Where the issues lie are when you have to move something past a stationary object you have no control over.  Things get caught up on them and start to freak out.  Sometimes you can just brute force your way through an object, other times you can’t, and most times there doesn’t seem to be a reason for either since it’s about a 50/50 chance the game will allow you to “phase through” it.  The other half you have to move around it.  Sure, it doesn’t sound like an issue on paper, but in practice, it’s majorly annoying.  This compounds itself when you’re on levels that have multiple tiers – adjacent screens you have to manually move to with the d-pad or arrows on screen – because you’ll be likely be doing this loop of “will they or won’t they” over and over with the same pieces.

Now once you get the objects in the proper places and you send Dash on his way to the end of the section you’re on, you’ll feel confident you can now set up the next screen.  Hold on a moment, though, because sometimes the game likes to be just as much of a dick as Dash is.  Randomly it’ll decide that even though you’ve set it up perfectly to allow movement a dozen times straight, on try #13, well…  Guess what?  It wasn’t perfect enough and Mr. Astonaught now fell off and you have to start over.   Wind out of sails confirmed.

 

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Come on, there are lasers now?

 

Graphically Nebulous isn’t a stunner, but it’s not something that has to be.  Everything on screen looks very appropriate to what it should be and I have really no complaints in this department.  The same pretty much goes for the music as well.  It’s fine. Nothing distracting, nothing too grandiose.  It kind of sounds like a mix of electronic/piano sci-fi and the Halloween soundtrack.  Maybe they could have varied it up a little bit, but, overall, I don’t really have too much to complain about here, either.

Sadly, there’s more I found to be lacking in this puzzle experience.  Those tiered levels can be annoying for the reasons I listed above, but also because, even though the game gives a quick restart and fast forward button (good moves), because of the distance Dash needs to travel and the speed of the fast forward are long and too slow respectively, it can drag on even when you’re trying to hurry it up.  I will say, however, that he sped up voice of Mr. Johnson is fun.

Adding to the sadness is the massive slowdown and frame rate issues.  This is especially harsh when you fail and restart.  This shouldn’t be a thing in my eyes for something like this game, but, here we are.  It’s almost every single time.  Slowdown can occur even when fast forwarding, which, I guess I can accept a couple of times, but, the amount of times you get frame rate issues dumped on you in Nebulous is just too distracting and annoying to overlook.  One final issue I have, which may not be one for you, is that the game ramps up the difficulty way too quickly.  Great (even good) puzzle games gradually up the ante, gradually introduce new mechanics or what have you.  Not here.  It happens really fast.  Not even taking a break and coming back could help with the issues already at hand.

 

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OK… What is this nonsense?

 

Trophy and Achievements aren’t too elaborate.  Beat all levels, beat all levels while collecting all stars, see both endings, etc.  The coolest one for me is hearing all of DJ’s insults.  I haven’t gotten this one, so I don’t know how many he actually has, but I’ve heard a great deal of them.  Oh, and no Plat.  Sorry, guys.

At the end of the day, I can’t really say I wasn’t heavily disappointed with what Nebulous offered me.  I was excited to throw down, but once I did, I found myself bored, frustrated, and sad, often at the same time.  Not good.  I was hoping they’d fix some of the issues with patches post launch, and while I did see at least one come through, it didn’t do anything I could notice.  Such a shame, because this could have been a huge hit with me.  Maybe they’ll fine tune it even more by the time VR hits, but, I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, so this has to be it for me.

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Nebulous is available now on PlayStation 4 (with a free demo) and Steam for $14.99.  A copy of the game was generously provided by our friends at Namazu Studios and their PR firm.

 

 

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