I’m a sucker for puzzle games, but in today’s world with an overabundance of app games, it’s hard to find one that’s actually good and original. Even more so is it hard to find one that’s fun to play, not too repetitive, and has some actual production value. While graphics and music aren’t everything, it’s just too easy to make a puzzle game today so those extra finishes really help to set games apart from the never ending flood of simple puzzle games.
I found Nexionode to be one such special title. The newly released (9/24/2014) game by Big Round Eyes is a simple to play, but quite impressive logic puzzle game complete with a well written plot, solid graphics and sound, and enough difficulty to make your brain hurt.
The graphics in Nexionode are quite nice for a mostly solid state puzzle game. The interactive objects are simple, but well-crafted circular nodes that have a sci-fi feel to them. The orange and blue lights and lasers are perfect in much the same way as the nodes. The graphics are highly interactive and show no lag even at rapid movement speeds. Something you notice as you play the game is that the nodes and lasers interplay to intentionally create shapes such as stars throughout the levels.
The level backgrounds are intricate drawings of various parts of a spaceship. These include a command centre, the inter-workings of a computer, shield arrays, and other sci-fi inspired locations. These backgrounds do not move and have no effect on the gameplay, but they are an integral part of the story. They are easily ignored or overlooked, but you should definitely pay attention to them to gain more depth into the plot. Something I really liked is that each level has an intro screen that looks like an airlock with a window showing part of the level background, making it seem like you’re actually travelling to different areas of a space ship.
The menus, of which there are only 2 plus a stage map, are similar to the rest of the game – intricate background pictures and simple interactive elements. The main menu consists of blue buttons with white block letter text. Similar text is used for messages such as when you fail and have to try again. The HUD is one of the simplest you will ever see. It’s just a small section in the top of the screen that tells you how many puzzles you have left in the stage and how much time you have left, if any.
The only other graphics the game has to speak of are the system logs. These are probably the least visually appealing part of the game, but they actually look very appropriate for the story. They consist of black and grey backgrounds with blue text. The text is thin and machine like, but has a bit of an 8 bit look to it, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not as smooth as the rest of the game so it stands out a bit. All in all I really like the graphics in Nexionode. I feel that they are not so amazing that you will remember them as a main reason for enjoying the game, but they are definitely nice and much better looking than many similar games commonly released today.
The gameplay in Nexionode is simple to learn and near impossible to master. It has one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen using moving pictures and only three short lines of text. Each puzzle contains nodes which have orange lights. A node can have up to six orange lights. When nodes are connected, orange lights turn blue. Your goal is to connect the nodes via laser so that all orange lights on all nodes have turned blue. Any two nodes can only be connected once. It sounds super easy, but it’s most certainly not. Nodes can be arranged in a variety of odd ways and lasers can’t travel through obstacles.
You play exclusively with the cursor. The mouse works better than a laptop pad, but this only really becomes important for the timed and moving levels. You can connect nodes by dragging the cursor from one to another or by clicking the next node you want to link. You must drag the laser for the first two nodes in any puzzle. Often, especially in the timed and moving puzzles, you are basically required to use the drag function to complete puzzles. You can reverse moves by clicking the previous node or pressing the undo button. You can undo as many times as you want. The round ends when you link a node that runs out of orange lights. If this happens but you haven’t completed all the nodes then you have to start the puzzle over.
The controls are very responsive and obvious. For the most part they work fine, but you will often get errors because the game will make connections that you didn’t necessarily mean to make because of the cursor’s proximity to nearby nodes. This is not usually a problem, but will cause you much irritation in later stages.
Unintentional connections happen frequently when nodes are in close proximity.
The game is broken up into 22 stages, with each containing multiple puzzles ranging from 7 – 9. Each stage completed nets a coin. You need a certain number of coins to progress to the next section of the ship. Technically you don’t have to beat every stage to progress to the end, but the later stages are harder so it makes more sense to beat them in order. It also makes more sense to beat them all for the story, because each stage nets another chunk of the plot.
There are two types of stages in the game. Normal stages are not timed, but there is a time bonus. If you can complete the stage before the time runs out then you will receive an optimization bonus. If time does run out you are still able to play the level until you complete it, but you will not receive the bonus. The bonus appears to have no effect on the rest of the game or the plot’s outcome. Timed stages, of which there are 4, are played the same way except you must complete them within the time limit or you will have to start the entire stage over. Personally I felt the timed stages were a bit unfair because the amount of time allotted was way too low considering the aforementioned connection errors that often occur when moving the cursor quickly.
The first 18 levels contain stationary puzzles, but the last four contain moving nodes. These levels are very troublesome because they rely on luck much more than intelligence. Often you will see the solution but not be able to achieve it for many tries because you can’t move the mouse quickly enough or the wrong node is connected unintentionally. In these moving levels you have basically no room for error and no time for undos because if a moving node hits a laser the puzzle automatically restarts, causing you to lose all your progress in that particular puzzle or the whole level in the case of the last timed stage. The last two puzzles took me almost as long as the rest of the game because of how hard it is to time the moving nodes.
Other than with the timed levels, all progress is saved. You will start whatever stage you exited at the furthest stage reached. You can quit at any time and come right back whenever you want. Any connections made before quitting in an unfinished puzzle will be lost though.
The game runs very smoothly overall. You can load it up and start playing in a matter of seconds and you will experience no latency with the controls. Everything moves pretty seamlessly, including navigating the menus. It’s an almost flawless game as far as gameplay is concerned, and were it not for the moving levels I would have had basically no complaints.
The sound in Nexionode was done very well. It’s clean and clear, but not too loud. The music is a number of different tracks that fall into the category of techno or house, which is appropriate for a sci-fi themed game. But they are still very light and easy on the ears. The tracks have no lyrics and loop flawlessly so that no matter how long you spend on a level your concentration is never broken.
The sound in Nexionode was done very well.
The sound effects are simple but also quite appropriate. There are just a few simple tones for when you link nodes, press menu buttons, and complete or fail levels. Lasers hitting obstacles makes a buzzing sound as well. Just like with the graphics, the sound has no latency. It all works together to keep the player in the game’s atmosphere and maintain concentration. But you do have the option of muting either sound effects or music separately if you so choose. Sound gets a high score for being noticeable but not over-pronounced, appropriate, and of high quality.
I think any straight puzzle game that takes the time to weave a plot into the experience deserves praise. In today’s game development culture, way too many games, especially indie titles, focus solely on the gameplay and graphics. Often plot is ignored altogether and not included in the game. Nexionode takes the time to develop a full plot from the very start of the game to the last level and adds to it at the end of each of the 22 stages.
The plot of the game takes place in outer space on a colony ship that’s carrying the last hope for Earth’s population. They seek a new planet, but because of the distance they have been put into cryostasis. You play as a repair drone that has been programmed with advanced AI. The drone is activated when the ship begins malfunctioning, thus tasking you with maintenance duties. As you complete stages you are given access to newer parts of the ship and system logs. These logs contain messages between various characters such as engineers, politicians, and other crew members.
As you read through the logs you discover that the reason the ship is having so many problems is because it was haphazardly built in a rush with many parts unfinished or made cheaply due to government budget cuts. As you play through the game the drone does its best to repair the many damaged and malfunctioning parts of the ship, but things just seem to keep getting worse. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it won’t surprise you.
For a puzzle game, Nexionode has one of the better stories I’ve seen recently. I think the way it was presented was done very well and made sense for the plot. The use of minute amounts of text really adds to the drama of the story because you really don’t know if humanity is going to make it and care about making it to the ending. Big Round Eyes did an excellent job of storytelling.
Nexionode has a large amount of replay value for a puzzle game. The 22 stages contain more than 150 puzzles, many of which have more than one solution. There are also bonuses for completing stages within a certain amount of time. While the motivation to replay the game does require some real dedication, which you might not have after a game that will irritate you as much as this one will, the potential for extra play time is there.
This game contains many levels, most of which can be beaten in a matter of seconds if you know what you’re doing or you’re a genius. But chances are neither applies to you so many levels will take considerably longer than a few seconds. Some, like the second to last level, may actually take you hours to complete. I’d say the game can be credited with a solid 5 – 8 hours of play. Considering the fact that the graphics, sound, and writing are good as well as the cross-platform access with a single purchase, the $7 price tag is a fair one.
I think Nexionode is a great game overall. Excellent gameplay, good writing, appropriate graphics, and high sound quality. It’s addictive to the point of rage and really challenges the player to think in new ways. While there are a few parts of it that are a little unfair, it’s for the most part a very fulfilling experience. I recommend Nexionode with the stipulation that you may not actually finish the game due to its difficulty. But even then, it’s still an excellent gameplay experience for those who like logic puzzles.
You can purchase Nexionode directly from the Big Round Eyes website.
- Easy & Clean Gameplay
- Many Challenging Puzzles
- Solid Plot Development
- Final stages rely too much on luck
- Many node connection errors occur