Game Review | Noita - pixel me this!
There’s something to be said about the unadulterated fun that chaos brings. I’m not just talking about the type of chaos you see at a supermarket on a Sunday morning or the terror of a swarming children when the birthday cake is presented on the table.
While those are inherently chaotic events, we all know what to expect from them. I’m talking about the kind of chaos that’s impossible to predict, the sort of event that forces you to make twelve split-second decisions just to stay alive and muse on the consequences of your actions. Of course, it’s not a great idea to do this in real life and thus we turn to video games to scratch that itch of panic, fear, and all-round shock.
It’s a premise that Noita builds itself on, dabbling in the realm of both simulated nonsense through rogue-like shooter/platformer mechanics, and while the combination may initially sound strange to you the end result is a fun and frenetic game that forces players to think creatively rather than just blasting everything that moves. Of course, that’s when you’re able to even parse what the Hell you’re looking at.
Much like every rogue-like in the genre, Noita keeps presentation as minimal as possible to place more emphasis on its mechanics. You’ll start every run as a robed wizard (or maybe a sorcerer? Mage? I don’t want to assume anything) equipped with a random starting wand, an explosive tool and a vial of liquid which can be anything from a fire potion to a polymorph concoction. With those tools you have to descend deeper and deeper into the mountain, the only reprieve being Holy Mountain areas that get you back to full health and give you a chance to purchase new wands and perks.
It’s the standard layout for a game like this, one that doesn’t deviate from a model that has worked and will continue to work well into the future (well, until we all get bored of it). What differentiates Noita from the competition is the level of interactivity the game affords the player as runs begin to evolve from a standard rogue-like shooting gallery into a feat of player expression, creativity, and as you might have already guessed, chaos.
The big tagline Noita uses to market itself is that every pixel in the game is simulated. Which sounds vague enough to not really mean anything but in reality what giving every pixel a unique qualifier and material means that the game is able to create a truly dynamic environment. One that bends to the player’s will if they can figure out how it all fits together. Noita plays like the reverse of a survival game; instead of learning how all the different materials react with one another to build, you’re looking at turning those reactions into something destructive.
There’s a vat of acid held in place by a container of wood. You could avoid that entirely, sure. Or you could shoot the lantern hanging above the container and scatter embers over the wooden structure to burn it away and release the acid on any enemies below. It goes beyond just simple combat opportunities though. There could be a pit of lava that needs crossing, so why not scoop up some water in your empty vial, spray it all over that heated hazard and walk across like it was never there.
At first glance, having every pixel act as a simulated entity feels like a gimmick but once you begin to piece the world together, you realise that Noita is a game all about experimentation. A game that wants you to not only take the tools it gives you and learn how to defeat the enemies but how to also conquer your environment.
That sense of discovery and experimentation is also seen in the game’s weapon system. Rather than having a rigid set of wands that each do something unique, every magical stick you find can be swapped and altered with different effects and spells. Of course, some wands only have a single slot to house a new spell while others may have four that you could fill, meaning that Noita essentially lets you craft your ideal weapon on the fly if you’re lucky to find the spells you’re after. As cool as this system is, I really wish the game did a better job of explaining it to players. It could be that I missed or glanced over the tutorial but it took me ages to figure out how to best use the wands I was discovering. Rogue-likes are more often than not games were discovery drives players to learn more but on this occasion, I’d love a touch more guidance.
The only other issue I have with Noita isn’t really one that it can control. That chaos I was talking about earlier? That’s only fun when you’re still able to make your way out of it. It’s a side-effect of having a game built on the idea of weird and wonderful interactions but I’ve had several Noita runs end in frustration because the environment just sort of… became impossible to read. There was so much garbage happening that I couldn’t parse what was going on and I died without seeing what I had even killed. This is also an issue with some of Noita’s darker levels where some enemies tend to fade into the background and become very difficult to properly track, especially when you have all the explosions and tumbling rocks flying everywhere. Some more unique colours and enemy designs could have gone a long way to make Noita more readable.
Yet despite those gripes, finishing my first run of Noita was a watershed moment. It’s harder than most rogue-likes, a genre that’s typically known for being punishing, so having that one run where you build yourself the perfect wand, find your favourite perks and twist the world to your whim to come out on top… well, it might have been the most satisfying rogue-like win of the year for me. That’s the thing about trying to make a game like this in 2020, you have to acknowledge that there’s always a game that’s going to do something a little better. While there have been plenty of excellent rogue-likes this year, a handful that have certainly been more enjoyable to actually play, Noita deserves your time for actually doing something boldly different. It doesn’t always pay off but when it does, it’s some of the most satisfying gameplay you’re likely to encounter this year.
And if you’re not trying to set every single piece of wood on fire, why are you even bothering?