A Night Sky: a rolling good time

silhouette against a sunset

A Night Sky is the most recent game to be released by Nifflas. Nifflas is a familiar face on the indie games scene having produced a number of popular titles including Saira and Within a deep forest. Nifflas' games are marked by innovativeness and a relaxed atmospheric feel and A Night Sky is no exception. In the game you control a shiny black ball, guiding it on a labyrinthine journey through an eerie dark netherworld filled with puzzles. The visuals are smooth and calming with the ground always a dark silhouette against a sky filled with colour. Subtle music occasionally plays in the background completing the calm, relaxed and languid effect.

The basic gameplay of A Night Sky involves guiding the black ball through rough terrain filled with cliffs, holes and a lot of conveniently sloped areas. This includes a lot of precision rolling, jumps and bouncing off surfaces. In this area you have three powers at your disposal: slow sticky movement, super-fast speed and gravity reversal. Sticky movement is for when you need to do something precise or land and stop quickly, fast speed is for making huge jumps or doing loops and reversing gravity is useful only in specific areas. In a little bit of a twist these powers are not always available! Instead being enabled or disabled depending on the area you’re in. Powers are also sometimes stuck on forcing careful consideration of what to do. This customisation of powers enables the creation of a greater range of puzzles as well as keeping the player on their toes.

In order to make A Night Sky work effectively, a full physics system has been implemented so that the ball rolls accurately, transfers momentum and does all the rest of the good stuff the real world has to offer. This translates to the controls well, directing the ball feels precise and gives the player a feeling of confidence. Controlling the ball well is a skill to be learned and the puzzles are half working out what to do and half spinning the ball correctly to achieve it. The physics system also extends to the puzzles and is used judiciously to construct situations that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

a flying crazy contraption

a crazy contraption

The bread and butter of A Night Sky are its puzzles and they are definitely inventive. With humorous ideas, like pinball paddles to slap the black ball around and crazy contraptions incorporated seamlessly, it's hard not to stay interested. The contraptions are especially cool as they are constructed so that the ball spinning inside them pushes on parts to actually move them, another benefit of an accurate physics representation. The more run of the mill puzzles are just as enjoyable in their own way, requiring a deft control of the ball and good understanding of the laws of physics (although tutorial hints are available). If there is one thing to complain about with regard to the puzzles it's that certain ones can become quite frustrating. There are generally three screens to a puzzle and if you fail in any of the screens then you go back to the first and failing repeatedly on the third screen quickly becomes irritating.

A Night Sky has 10 worlds to play through, each of which is made up of numerous puzzles. Progression is linear for the most part and the worlds are generally worked through from start to finish in order. Inside each world there are one or more stars to collect, which are found by finding the secret exit to a puzzle instead of taking the normal one. In the final world these stars determine how far you can progress and all need to have been collected if you want to make it to the end. This is the area of the game where A Night Sky falls a little bit flat. There is no external reward for completing a world or collecting stars until the end of the game. Ordinarily this gap would be filled by the storyline, giving snippets to the player along the way providing an incentive to keep playing. However the storyline in A Night Sky is intentionally thin and is only at the beginning and end of the game. The lack of story makes the game feel a little bit empty and coupled with the linearity can make it feel unexciting despite the gameplay being good.

an obstacle course completed

obstacle course complete

In addition to the 10 worlds there are the two game modes that are available, these are Normal and Alternative. Normal is the mode recommended for people new to the game and Alternative is for people who have finished on normal or just want a challenge. The two modes are vastly similar and vastly different at the same time. They are similar in that they both cover the same worlds and different because all of the puzzles have altered structure. Alternative's puzzles are modified to be much more difficult, so much so that it isn't in the least boring to play through the game again after finishing it on Normal. In fact, it's almost as if Normal trains you so that you can play it successfully on Alternative.

Mastery of movement forms the core of A Night Sky. Once you start playing in Alternative the control and precision required transforms the game into a delicate ballet dance as you have to push and carefully balance the ball constantly. Things that seem impossibly hard at first will yield to persistence and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve when required to navigate a spinning maze or balance atop a rotating windmill. Tenuous hope and skin-of-the-teeth escapes will have you nodding in appreciation when you finally manage to break each tough puzzle.

The more you play A Night Sky the more you will like it. Controlling the black ball is an art form and it becomes more enjoyable the better you get at it. Mastery of the puzzles is satisfying and on Alternative there is enough challenge to really sink your teeth into, however the lack of a compelling story or some other reward system does detract from the enjoyment somewhat.

You can purchase the game for PC from here
An obviously clever puzzle game that could be improved by a stronger narrative and less linearity
7

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