NightSky sells itself as an “ambient action-puzzle game”, which is an excellent description for this unique platformer. Most of the time you’re rolling a ball from the left to the right to reach the far side of the screen. Each level is typically three screens, with the third screen serving as a visual addendum to the previous puzzle. I’d like to say it’s a deceptively simple game, but there really isn’t much more to it than rolling a ball.
Outside of games like Eufloria and Dear Esther, few video games have delivered a truly relaxing experience. There’s very little urgency in NightSky with only a couple of timed puzzles, and if your ball rolls into the abyss, you’re simply plopped back to the beginning of the three screen set. You can save and quit at any time without losing progress, and there isn’t even really an acknowledgement that you beat the game. Everything is designed to elicit as little positive or negative emotions as possible, developer Nicklas Nygren would probably deem it a success if you instead drifted off to sleep in your chair.
But that’s the point of the game: a minimalist platformer with a subdued style. The game is completely 2D with every foreground object silhouetted against the dusk-colored backgrounds. Your ball hero is only recognizable by its shape and movement against the background, often the only ambulant object on the screen at any given time.
But the game suffers from the fact that it was designed to be a WiiWare title, the resolution on the PC is limited to a tiny 600x338 window. This is the kind of game you want to lose yourself in: turn the lights off, put on some headphones, and just stare at your widescreen monitor glowing with the soft colors of twilight. I would love to see this stretched out to a full HD resolution, as the art style really deserves it.
The music is spot on with a lightly strummed guitar as the highlight. The backgrounds are full of lovely ambient sounds of rain falling, waves crashing, or wind blowing through the grass. It’s a serene, surreal experience. The sound effects are limited to pretty much just the tick of your ball hitting another solid object. This isn’t lazy sound editing, it’s simply effective at not being there when it doesn’t need to be.
In many ways, NightSky is the opposite of VVVVVV, that game thrived on difficult situations that forced you to sit up in your chair and put forth 100% of your concentration. NightSky allows you to sink into your chair and doesn’t even really require you to think. It’s a weird experience that I’ve never played before, but plan to seek out more in the future. NightSky is the kind of game that I would want to play after a long day of work.
Technical issues aside, I still feel like NightSky isn’t as mellow and engrossing as it could be. A few stages felt like they were attempting to elevate the game beyond a simple, relaxing diversion into some kind of weird vehicle/platformer hybrid, and they didn’t click with me at all. I also feel that making the game as linear as it is limits some of its potential as a calming agent. Being able to jump to a particular themed world at any time (before progressing to it normally) would have been welcome, especially as others wore out their welcome.
NightSky mostly succeeds in serving as the warm fireplace equivalent of a relaxing atmosphere, but I feel like the PC port could have received more attention. I may seek this out on WiiWare to see if the game is as effective on the television as in front of a keyboard.
Apparently I missed two things: NightSky was never actually released for WiiWare, and there is an HD version available for download through Humble Indie Bundle 4. I originally awarded NightSky a 6/10, but have removed that score upon learning this additional information.