Overall Score 38%
Nova is a old school vertical shooter. The player controls a ship at the bottom of the screen that slides side-to-side using the arrow keys and shoots using the space bar. Enemies appear at the top of the screen and shoot back. Itís the same old stuff that had us glued to our Atari 2600s, Amigas, Apple IIes and C-64s almost 30 years ago. In 1982 Nova could have sold thousands of copies at $59.95 a unit. In 2009, Nova will do very well to sell any copies at all.
The game is fundamentally flawed on at least one game breaking level and also struggles to offer anything either gameplay-wise or conceptually that we havenít seen (even going back decades) before.
The first 8 levels of the game take me between 3 minutes and 30 seconds to about 4 minutes and 10 seconds to complete. I should know - Iíve done them over 30 times now. The 9th level contains a boss enemy that shoots diagonal blasts as well as a beam weapon straight down. He is also protected by a shield that can be temporarily disrupted by shooting 3 balls that appear at somewhat random places on the level. The boss kills me every time I face him with over 70% life left (but usually around 90 to 95%). Iím them forced to go back and play the first 8 levels again from scratch (which are ridiculously easy) to face him again. Iíll admit that as a gamer, Iím a bit rubbish at shooters, especially twitchy, fast paced ones - but having said that, Iíd be far from the worst. I would conservatively estimate that at least 50% of people who try this game will not see anything past level 9. And that is just bad design.
User-selectable or dynamic difficulty settings are a must in games like this. Or alternatively, a system where progress can be saved automatically or at periodic intervals by the player.
But more of a concern is that in the first 8 levels of the game, I really donít see anything that would keep me grinding through for much more than a few plays. Out of a sense of responsibility to review the game fairly, Iíve plugged away for almost 2 hours now, but Iím really ready to call it quits on Nova.
When killed, some enemies drop powerups that the player can catch for various benefits. Some replenish shields, others make the ship invincible or shrink its size for a short while. There is one in particular that I have no idea what it does, and thereís no real documentation or in-game information to enlighten me. The game hints at different weapons becoming available through play (and I suspect that beating that first boss might reward a weapon that he uses, in much the same way the Megaman series worked), but I doubt Iíll ever find out.
Graphics are very retro and gaudy. Thatís actually not really a problem in the greater scheme of things, and I guess that this style of presentation reinforces the nostalgia value of games like this. The music consists of a nice upbeat tune that fits the game well but does become very repetitive. The sound effects are great.
To make things worse for Nova, Iíve just finished a review of Jeff Minter's ďGrid Runner RevolutionĒ, and although that was not all that Iíd hoped it would be, it does show how simple, retro shooters can be brought into the 21st century and still appeal to some primordial instinct in us all to blow stuff up. Only serious die-hard fans of retro shooters need to download Nova and take a look. And youíd want to be damn good at them too.
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