Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One, PC
Nova-111 is a curious little game that wears a few different hats. More often than not, the game radiates insane amounts of charm and warrants plenty of praise. Not everything clicks all of the time, but even then it's impossible to dislike the effort put forth by developer Funktronic Labs. This is especially true considering the fact that Nova-111 is just genuinely fun to play, and it's a particularly solid choice if you're going the portable route.
Taking Turns in Real Time
There isn't much setup when you first start playing Nova-111. You're tasked with saving a bunch of stranded scientists in a world that blends turn-based and real-time sensibilities. That's all you really need to know — there are no long-drawn-out story sequences or tutorials, but that works in the game's favor as you're instead sent straight into the action without any delay.
There's nothing daunting about the way Nova-111 introduces its turn-based and real-time mechanics. The first few levels do a good job of teaching you the basics with some minor text-based cues that are in no way intrusive. It's within those first levels that you learn how to move around maps and take on enemies, and the structure is so inviting that it all feels natural in no time.
The way it works is simple. While the game has a side-scrolling look to it, you can move freely across the stages in grid-like patterns. Every move you make, however, is mirrored by surrounding enemies. So if you move up toward an enemy, it'll move down toward you immediately after. A number of enemies are introduced during the game, so you'll need to alter your strategy depending on the type of creature you're dealing with. Some will simply bump into you, others will shoot projectiles at you, and some will even explode upon contact.
Your approach could vary, depending on what you want to take away from Nova-111. On one hand, if you're eager to collect hidden items and upgrades, and if you care about getting high scores, you could play more methodically and plan out your every move. On the other hand, if you don't care about any of those things, you can speed right through, taking down baddies on the fly and accruing hundreds of turns at a time. How you tackle the adventure is entirely up to you, so if you're looking for some more fast-paced enjoyment, you'll find that here.
In the Name of Science
Littered across every stage are various collectibles. These range from health and weapon upgrades to bombs to lost scientists. These are usually tucked away in clever hiding spots, requiring that you do a bit of digging. The difficulty of Nova-111 never gets too fiendish, so if you'd rather skip all of the exploration you can, but either way you're bound to stumble upon some useful upgrades along the way.
On the plus side you don't have to go looking for new weapons, as these are gradually awarded to you. When you first start all you can do is bump into enemies to defeat them. Eventually you're granted weapons like bombs and laser beams that allow you to attack from a distance. You also gain the ability to slow down time, which is useful as there are time-sensitive switches and doors featured throughout the later parts of Nova-111.
Your progress is recorded through a timer and a turn counter that keep track of how long it takes you to clear a stage as well as the number of turns it took you to get to the finish. These factors, along with the number of scientists you rescue, come into play at the end of a level, when you're graded for your performance. If you don't care about times, turns, or scientists, your progress isn't locked. It's worth mentioning, however, that saving scientists results in comical banter that's often worth reading.
The major grievance that Nova-111 presents is in the way that it saves your progress. There are multiple worlds, and each level within these worlds is made up of three lengthy stages. The problem lies in the fact that the game doesn't save in-between stages. So if you quit after completing one or two stages in a level, you'll have to start from the first stage the next time you load up the game. This is a problem as stages are generally quite lengthy, especially if you're seeking out collectibles.
Infused Charm at All Times
Visually, Nova-111 is filled with pleasing, subdued hues that are easy on the eyes. Level and creature designs are filled with a nice sense of charm, to the point where I can't help but to compare this game to a PixelJunk title. You do see a lot of the same types of environmental themes, but the overall lack of aesthetic variety isn't a major downer as everything still looks great.
The soundtrack goes down the same path, with a handful of solid tunes that you unfortunately have to listen to for long stretches of time. It never gets annoying because the music is good, but it would've been nice to hear even more solid beats.
Really, you could apply the aforementioned comments to Nova-111 as a whole. It doesn't do anything inherently wrong. In fact, it's a good game that's a lot of fun to play. But because it doesn't exactly strive for variety, it's best played in short bursts — just be sure to complete all three stages in a level so you don't lose your progress.
At roughly six hours (even less if you just speed right through), there's not a whole lot in the way of lasting value. If you dig it, though, the hidden collectibles and unlockable New Game+ mode should keep you busy for a while, just don't expect loads of depth. Though Nova-111 is available on a handful of platforms, I found the Vita version to be the best fit, as taking the game with me on the go made for some entertaining bursts of fun. If you're specifically looking for those qualities, you really can't go wrong here.