Nocturnal Preview – Pervaded Kindles

One of the most overlooked elements of game design, at least by players, is intuitiveness. Not many consider the factors that subtly reinforce gameplay actions, yet, perhaps in an ironic sense, that lack of consideration within the moment can be seen as a success. The immersive capabilities brought about by intuition alone are exceptionally impactful. After all, knowing how to progress without strict instructions can make even the simplest of actions rewarding, which the Sunnyside Games-developed action platformer Nocturnal embraces at its core. Yet, there are a few concerning issues that plague the combat system.

Nocturnal follows the protagonist Ardeshir who returns to his homeland to investigate the cause of a mysterious mist that has overtaken it. In the early hours I played, storytelling and character scenes were minimal, with most of the playtime comprising platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat. Thankfully, Nocturnal’s apparent bread and butter appears deliciously cooked, thanks to how consistently smooth the experience feels, alongside the central gimmick making it distinct.

Ardeshir’s blade can be coated in flames, used to light the countless torches you’ll find throughout your adventure, and this light source has two uses. Firstly, select torches act as switches to open doors. Second, the light of the fire hampers the presence of the dark mist seeping amidst passageways. Standing within the mist for a set period will kill you, so being mindful of the nearest flame source is imperative.

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The mechanic works in execution as the developer also use it as an avenue for creative platforming. For instance, there are a few sections where you must keep a torch on a moving platform lit as you traverse a series of platforms impeded by darkness.

On the other hand, combat has been somewhat hit-and-miss. While the enemies seem well-designed, and you have a dodge roll that also acts as a swift dash when Ardeshir’s sword is enkindled, these beginning sections make encounters come across as an afterthought.

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The dash, for example, feels better implemented for navigation since its utilization in fights may require overcorrection on the player’s part. Plus, this could admittedly be due to me not having enough experience yet, but the minor leisure speed at which Ardeshir responds to movement inputs doesn’t mesh well with how fast enemies attack. Further, possibly the most questionable design choice is the healing. On the compact skill tree, the first ability you gain is a heal that can only be activated if the sword has flames.

However, you can spam this at any point near any fire source, regardless of whether or not you’re in a foe’s vicinity. Even when taking the windup for performing the action into account, you essentially have a free heal that comes off as far too generous. I have a feeling you’ll be able to brute-force enemy encounters without much consequence, but maybe I’ll be wrong in the full game.

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Nocturnal’s immediately noticeable strength is its strong platforming leveraged by an intuitive flame-based mechanic, enabling memorable setpieces. Unfortunately, the lacking narrative and, more prominently, the fights may weigh down the experience, though I look forward to seeing what potential fruit these efforts ultimately bear.

Nocturnal is coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC in Spring 2023.

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.