NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits

The other day, an acquaintance of mine was talking about NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits, and I figured, hey, I have that from one of my Steam bundles. I should give that a try. The fact that she had been talking about frustrations with it didn’t register with the part of my brain that forms gaming desires, apparently.

NyxQuest an indie 2D platformer rendered in 3D (a combination that seems to be fashionable right now) with puzzly bits and a Greek mythology theme. It basically has a princess plot, but gender-swapped: you play the part of Nyx, a woman with wings who lives in the sky, looking for Icarus, who flew up to visit her on a regular basis until his famous accident. Clearly they’re playing fast and loose with myth here, but what game doesn’t? Icarus’s fall to earth from flying too close to the heat of the sun is reinterpreted as him becoming the first casualty to the sun itself declaring war on Earth. The whole game seems to take place in ruins in the desert, signs of the wrath of Helios. It’s a little unusual for a 2D platformer to have this kind of consistency of setting, it seems to me. Usually the designers like to swap tilesets every few levels to produce a (somewhat artificial) sense of variety: a forest level and a factory level and so forth. Even though I recognize this kind of variation as shallow, I kind of miss it.

Anyway, the really notable thing here is the platforming mechanics. For starters, there’s the wings. You know how in some platformers you can double-jump? Nyx can quintuple-jump. She can also glide briefly. But the really notable part is the ability to manipulate objects. After a while, you get the ability to grab certain items with the mouse cursor and either pull them along one axis (usually used to slide pillars up and down) or lift them and move them around. They still have a physical presence in the world while you’re moving them, mind you, and sometimes you have to be careful not to conk Nyx with a large stone block. But this also means that you can, for example, lift a block into the air and have Nyx jump and land on it so that she can jump again from higher up.

In-story, this sort of manipulation is supposed to be a sort of telekinetic power granted to Nyx by Zeus, but to me, it feels more like something that the player applies to the gameworld from without, rather like in Samorost. It also feels a little weird because it forces me to use both hands simultaneously and independently, controlling two different things in tandem. This is especially weird-feeling when the two hands cross over. It’s easy to come to associate the left hand with stuff you’re doing on the left side of the screen and the right hand with the right side — much of the game is spent travelling from left to right, which means that the right side is where manipulable objects first come into view. But there are times when you need to move a block to Nyx’s left, and it somehow feels awkward, which is interesting. I’m told that infants, in the course of learning how to use their limbs, don’t even try at first to reach their arms across their bodies, the left arm to the right side or vice versa — that it takes them a while to figure out that this is even possible, and that it’s a bit of a personal breakthrough when they do. This game makes me feel like I’m going through something similar, my first fumbling steps towards basic motor coordination.

3 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 26 Jan 2011

    This was a Wii game originally, and the port makes no concessions to the new platform. This works out better for Wii-native games than for other consoles, because the interaction that appears to work the best on the Wii is to use the Wii Remote as a pointer, a clear analog to using the mouse. This may well be where the awkwardness is coming from.

    Then again, this control scheme does turn up a lot in PC-native games for an move-and-aim scheme, although there the cursor’s usually constrained as the direction the player character is aiming.

  2. Jason Dyer on 26 Jan 2011

    I did find the Wii port controls fairly natural, but I didn’t enjoy the demo enough to get the game.

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 26 Jan 2011

    I know I’ve seen platformer/shooters that use keyboard to move and mouse to aim — Abuse comes to mind. But somehow it feels different when the mouse is manipulating an in-world object rather than a targeting reticle.

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