Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alex Reviews an Indie Game: Naut

Naut is an adorable-looking, pay-what-you-want road trip simulator by LucieVitagé, Tom Victor, and Titouan Millet, of the Klondike Collective. One or two players control little astronauts as they drive (or scurry) across Mars, discovering new sites, spooky houses, and what's over the next hill.

At its best, Naut looks like this.
Anyone who knows me will immediately recognize how much the concept of a game like this tugs at my heartstrings. Co-op involves the delightful possibility of one player hopping in the passenger seat as the other drives; or else they might find a second car and race across the martian landscape, or even split up and explore at their leisure. All this conveyed with pretty, pastel-coloured graphics and some slick modelling. Some may call it boring, but I call it sweet, exploratory, and meditative.

At least in theory. Naut was put together for a 24-hour game jam, and it feels like the team could have spent a little more time finessing the controls. The camera is sluggish, walking more so; running is, for lack of a better term, janky as hell; the driving could be alright if the game didn't have little obstacles popping up at random intervals and distances, sending your car careening off course and often winding up upside down. This last issue was particularly frustrating, as I found myself getting out of the car to flip it every thirty seconds or so, when I would rather have been enjoying the ride. At a certain point I found myself driving upside-down to my next destination (which works, somehow, albeit slowly) because I was tired of righting it. A designer mentions keeping in the bugs because they're funny, but for me the frustration far outweighed the comedy. This is especially a shame because on the few occasions I managed to get in a couple minutes without a collision, I actually rather enjoyed myself.
Mostly, though, it looks like this.
What perplexes me most is that the random obstacles were added at all. Perhaps it was to add a dimension of challenge to getting from one point to another, but a) a six-inch car-flipping cactus that pops up a foot from your fender isn't a challenge so much as an assault, and b) it sort of seems off concept when the required reaction time shifts the game from "road trip" to "martian car slalom." I'm not convinced the game really needed to be challenging. The reason I'm writing this review at all is to raise the question of why commit to such a design decision, when the game may have been perfectly playable without it.
What happened immediately after I hit "Flip the car"
In brief: An appealing concept with pretty graphics marred by irritating implementation. It's hard to blame the devs when they were working under such tight time constraints, but I hope this review can at least serve to remind people that less can be more, and that a high level of difficulty (or the appearance thereof) is not always necessary for an enjoyable game. Give me Knytt with a car; Give me Shadow of the Colossus but like just the horse.

Anyway, the game, as I mentioned, is free, and if you have a little fun with it you might even leave the devs a tip. You can get it here.

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