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Nebulous 24th of September 2016

Oh god, another indie puzzle game. I have no fancy preamble, let’s just dive right in.

Namazu Studios’ Nebulous is a physics based indie puzzle game where you have to guide a heroic astronaut by the name of Dash Johnson - who has no control over his own movements - through myriad puzzle situations, avoiding countless hazards along the way. It also just happens to support VR goggles. Now, I’m a bit of a VR sceptic who won’t put on an Oculus to have a quick bash of a casual puzzle game so I can’t see myself ever playing this in VR and I really can’t say how much mileage you’d get in VR, it’s just another way of controlling the game really - where looking at things is the equivalent of pointing your mouse at them. Anyway, I digress…

The nicest thing I can say is that the dialogue is surprisingly great! Both the quality of the audio and voice acting, and the variety of the dialogue lines - they’re mostly one liners but there’s certainly enough of them, and a great proportion of them are genuinely funny enough that they’re not tiresome after only a single repeat. Dash Johnson’s dialogue is part GLaDOS - insulting you, telling you you’re dumb when you fail - and part Billy West’s tremendous performance as Zapp Brannigan in Matt Groening’s “Futurama” - self-important, sure that he’s great and willing to bargain to save his own miserable hide - it’s a nice mix that did give me a smile or two during my time spent with the game. A truly unexpected pleasure, but it’s not the only thing that this game has going for it.
The second nicest thing I can say about Nebulous is that it’s a very solid puzzler. There are some forty levels or so, all of which feature multiple ways to complete them, so if you’re a puzzle perfectionist, there’s definitely a substantial amount of replay value to be found in attempting to complete each puzzle perfectly. On top of that though, the later levels introduce some rather interesting concepts that will actually make you think, there’s some genuinely smart puzzle design to be found here, now whilst none of it is amazingly original, but a good meal well-made and all that. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, that’s as far as I can go before having to delve into the three major issues that I found with Nebulous, now none of them are game breakers thankfully, but rather irritations that could probably have been corrected quite easily in development.

It was particularly surprising to me to find that repeated attempts to crack a puzzle without making any changes to my strategy would sometimes provide different results, which is something that really shouldn’t happen in a physics based puzzler. Additionally, it seems to be impossible to see a whole puzzle screen at once, this is likely due to the VR focus of the game’s development wherein the team expect the player to be physically looking around. For those who will tackle the game like myself though, this will lead to problems; personally, I found that I kept missing puzzle pieces until I had scanned the whole area multiple times, which is both time consuming and frightfully annoying.
Finally, my third complaint is a pretty major one to me; many of the multi-part levels have no interaction between their various sections so it feels like a long wait to run through the earlier portions of a stage to try out your new attempted solutions to the latter stages - this feels like a long wait even with the fast forward option that the developer rightfully added. It really feels as though these areas might have been better split into multiple puzzles, if only to alleviate the frustration of failing a puzzle at the later stages.

Overall, Nebulous is a reasonably priced, surprisingly funny and well put together puzzler with only a few minor niggles. If you enjoy a decent physics puzzler, then it’s worth the £6.99 it’s going for. If you don’t enjoy them that much, then I can definitely say pick it up for £3.49 in a future Steam sale.
Paddy Maxson
 
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