Review: Nexionode

By Kelsey Rinella 04 Nov 2014 0
Sometimes, the lack of haptic feedback is a blessing. It's like playing Cat's Cradle with electricity.

Some apocalypses leave the surface of the earth in desperate straits, with humanity struggling to survive. Mad Max, Fallout, A Canticle for Liebowitz--there are lots of post-apocalyptic settings in which interesting things can still happen on Earth. Heck, Marvel apparently already has post-Ragnarok plans. Nexionode is set at the end of the other kind of apocalypse; the kind that puts one in mind of the classic exploration of how to utterly destroy the earth. When something's coming which won't even leave the cradle of humanity a plausible place to recolonize, the tragically unforgiving allure of space becomes irresistible. Unfortunately, you've departed on your extrasolar Oregon Trail in quite the hurry, without the equivalent of a spare wheel or axle. Your job now is to Macguyver your way around the complications of flying humanity's last hope before it's entirely finished being built.

Darkly humorous setting aside, what we're really talking about here is a simple puzzle game; in some of the loosest theming this side of the Tetris movie, there's nothing an interstellar handyman can face which isn't fixed by drawing lines between dots. These are the titular acid reflux-suffering nodes, each of which sports a number of hashes equal to the number of links it must have. Fortunately, simple concepts can work well for puzzle games, and Nexionode gradually adds obstacles, severe time limits, and motion, all of which add difficulty without additional rules overhead.

Clearly, that's an exaggeration. Kittens, obviously, are devils. Timed levels are not my favorite. Timed levels which make you replay a series of other levels if you fail them tear the wings off baby kitten angels.

Much of the game consists of static puzzles you can finish at your own pace (though there's a bonus for finishing a group of puzzles very quickly). Solving these hinges on a nice balance between general inferences about Nexionode as a whole and insights into specific problems posed by individual levels. I found myself sufficiently stymied by a few such levels that I took a break; returning to them with fresh eyes was usually sufficient.

Several groups of puzzles are not only timed, but force you to begin the entire group of levels again if you fail any of them. Self-control is said to be a depletable resource, so I'm going to go eat a bowl of Halloween candy after expressing my displeasure at this structure without resorting to the dreaded Caps Lock. One level so frustrated me that I simply took a screenshot, solved it offline, then returned to enter the solution. By the time I reached that level again, I'd forgotten how I just solved it, so I repeated the process. Adding time pressure to otherwise simple puzzles in order to make them difficult enough to be interesting strikes me as family degenerate game design, so my initial reaction to its use in a punishing structure was extremely negative.

Idiot! In the Latin alphabet, "Jehovah" starts with an "i"! The pilot has turned on the "The die is cast" sign. You are now free to move about the cabin; we don't think it'll make things any worse at this point.

Fortunately, developers Big Round Eyes were actually training me in a skill I'd need for their last batch of puzzles, which were a blast. These added moving nodes, bringing a heretofore two-dimensional path-finding puzzle into a third dimension, a dimension not of height or of width, but of time. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination--wait, no, that's the Twilight Zone. Surprisingly accurate, though, as navigating these puzzles requires visualizing complicated interactions. You must also move quickly to implement solutions, which I'd have been utterly unprepared for without the earlier timed levels. I cannot recall a more exciting innovation in a puzzle game without added rule complexity. Sadly, there are only a few such puzzles, which left me with intellectual blue balls.

The demo on Android can help you learn whether the simple UI and overall aesthetic appeal to you, but the last group of levels is where Nexionode really stands out. I find myself feeling much as do about 3D TVs: most of the time, they're perfectly satisfactory normal TVs, but they need these annoying glasses in order to make the really special moments possible. In the world of home electronics, I've never been interested enough in apex experiences to bother with 3D, but puzzles are dearer enough to me that I'm quite glad to have played those final levels.

Nexionode was played on an iPad Air for this review.

Review: Nexionode

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