NightSky has had quite the interesting development history. First announced way back in 2007 under two different names, the game went silent for two years until it was re-announced as a WiiWare exclusive in 2009, and then came the confirmation that it would arrive on PC first in 2010. Cancelled as a WiiWare game due to the flagging sales of download titles in general, NightSky then at last found a permanent Nintendo home on the 3DS eShop and released there on US machines in 2012. Published by Nicalis (who has a history of late releases as it is), European 3DS owners can now finally enjoy NightSky in 2013. Is this just the hazy dusk of a troubling development history or actually the dawn of one of the best downloads ever?
Like many other popular download games, NightSky takes the form of a 2D side-scrolling momentum-and-physics-based puzzler, and has a whale of a time doing so. The game is light on narrative; enough so that players feel there is a purpose to play through the levels, but not so much as to get in the way. The story goes that a young boy finds a mysterious Orb on the sands of a beach and takes it home with him. Later that night, said Orb reacts to the light emitting from the sunset and invades the boy's dreams while he is asleep. This is where the game takes place as the orb is guided through caverns and tunnels of varying designs and difficulties.
First thing noticed when starting up NightSky is the black silhouette look the game has gone with, and although it may be a simple style that by no means pushes the 3DS hardware, the way the game combines it with the colourful sunset backgrounds provides the human eye with a result that is nothing short of incredible. Combined with the physics engine that reacts to the slightest movement made and allows the surroundings - like trees and foliage - to react like their natural counterparts makes for what is easily one of the most striking games on 3DS. That's even before mentioning the 3D which, if the cliché tagline were ever more poignant, truly adds another dimension to the gameplay. Even with the 3D off, there is never any confusion as to which terrain is in the foreground and which is in the background, but with it on this is a prime example of a game that fits better visually on 3DS than anywhere else.
Complementing the pick-up-and-play nature of its host, NightSky's vast number of levels are split into groups that carry a certain theme. Each level consists of three separate-but-instant screens, and the goal is to reach from the left side of the first screen all the way to the right of the third. The game automatically saves progress with each level reached, and a simple press of the 'X' button allows instantaneous restarts of that level should you bugger it up.
Although rolling a sphere from left to right doesn't sound like much of a lengthy game, the essence of NightSky's genius is how far it takes such a simple concept. For instance, there are two extra commands with the 'Y' button speeding up the orb and the 'B' button slowing it down. The game takes this extra functionality and runs with it. One stage a well-timed loop-de-loop will be required, whilst another makes use of careful timing when heading across swinging platforms over bottomless pits. Other stages allow for the piloting of vehicles with the orb's rolling momentum powering the gears that move them. On some stages control is even taken away and put onto the environment instead. It's a level of freshness and - daresay - innovation that would seldom be seen outside of a 3D Mario platform title, and that is a very high accolade indeed.
Although NightSky's appeal lies solely with a single-player audience and consists of just one main mode, the game is absolutely jam-packed with content for that mode that will justify its purchase many times over. The main campaign is by no means an easy trip but provides enough quick restarts and ease of use that not only drains out any frustration with the game but makes it a relaxing experience, and is fairly lengthy, too. There are secret stars to find in certain courses that open up new pathways later on, and there is also an entirely separate campaign to play through on a higher difficulty should you so choose, helping to justify the three save slates that can be used. NightSky isn't for every kind of gamer and it won't last forever, but what it is, is twofold; not only one of the most relaxing and rewarding games of recent memory, but a true highlight and must-play title on the 3DS eShop.
Making a strong case for minimalism providing truly awe-inspiring results, NightSky takes a key concept to levels that even fully-fledged retail games have trouble reaching. No guns, no damsel in distress, no witty vocal main character, but easily one of the most memorable experiences anyone will ever have on a Nintendo 3DS.