A great momentum based time trial game that's just a lot of fun.
In a world of fast paced time attack levels, it’s hard to create a balance between appealing to a large audience while simultaneously satisfying the crazy time trial obsessed people who like nothing more than shaving off precious milliseconds from their time. This niche has mainly consisted of platforming games, seemingly the only style of game that lends itself to the time trial system effectively. Enter Nimbus, deemed as a puzzle racing game by developer Noumenon Games, is a marriage of quick levels, puzzle elements and aerial movement that together create an incredibly compelling game.
The gameplay in Nimbus is completely aerial based; your ship starts each level in freefall and the only controls are moving the ship left and right, and braking. Your ship has absolutely no thrust of its own, and completely relies on its falling momentum to gain speed and swoop across the levels. Throughout the levels you’ll come across bounce pads, speed tiles, directional launchers, arrows that automatically aim you in a specific direction, and a lot of other various tools to maintain or hinder your momentum. This control scheme makes for a very interesting game, with a many levels revolving around trying to gain momentum and get higher up the level to reach the goal. Each aspect that can raise your speed does so at the exact same rate, which is to say if you hit a bounce pad, it will always launch you to the same height every time. This consistency makes for amazing level design that can make for just reaching the next pad you need to hit, to large dive bombs to get a massive amount of speed. The controls on the keyboard leave a bit to be desired, but the game has full 360 controller support to alleviate that.
These kinds of levels are only one type you can find in the game. Levels also feature a multitude of puzzle elements, such as keys to unlock paths or switches to turn walls on or off. On top of that there are balls you can push with your ship, and walls that only these balls can pass through. Each level has been expertly crafted so you always know exactly where to go next, which is great considering there’s really no way to stop and think about your surroundings. With the constant movement of the ship there’s no real way to stop and think about what to do next, the game keeps you on your toes at all time.
It also wouldn’t be a crazy time trial type game without billionty things out to kill you. These can range from simple spiked walls to lasers and giant spheres, and even your own momentum. Hell even the balls used to push and trigger buttons can be covered with spikes. If you ever find yourself on the ground unable to move you’re dead, and one hit of any hazard and you’re also dead. This makes the game rather unforgiving in the later levels. Luckily, there are checkpoint launchers in a lot of the levels. These checkpoints are the only thing that the 3 different difficulty settings effect. On easy you can reset from the checkpoints as many times as you like, normal mode only has 5 resets and on hard these checkpoints only serve as giant launchers, as you can’t reset from them at all. This is a great way to handle difficulty in these kinds of games, as people who want a fun experience can sit back on easy and, while the actual levels don’t get any easier, there’s a lot more room for error. At the same time people who want to dominate the high score tables wouldn’t want to restart from a checkpoint to start with, think of how many milliseconds would be lost!
Speaking of which, each level has its own leaderboard, complete with support for Steam friends only leaderboards and your average time throughout all the levels. On top of that are some Steam achievements for beating specific levels under a ridiculous fast time. While these leaderboards are a great drive to improve your time and think about levels in a different way, most of the difficulty comes from hidden coins found in the levels. On certain levels there will be one or more giant golden coins floating around somewhere in the level. These coins more often than not need a lot of speed and quick manoeuvring to get, and make you think about the levels in different ways. Some levels that normally require you to brake and slowly weave in between a gratuitous amount of spikes will taunt you with a coin that can only be gotten by not breaking at all, saving all of your speed to launch back up the other side to barely reach said coin. Some require certain puzzles to be completed out of order, forcing you to think outside of the box and access areas you originally thought couldn’t be accessed without collecting a certain key. These coins add a huge amount of challenge to the game and are a lot of fun to find.
The actual game opens up with a great Ghosts ‘n Goblins homage with a giant eye swooping in and stealing your girlfriend flying ship, who obviously looks exactly like you but is pink. You are then thrust into a Super Mario World style map that contains 5 worlds, 6 if you include the Christmas pack, each with their own distinctive style. Some levels, along with hidden coins, also contain hidden exits to harder levels or shortcuts in the world to skip a few levels. Unfortunately it takes a surprisingly long time to load into a level from the main map; sometimes so long you’d think the game has locked up. When you complete levels or get the hidden coins you unlock different trails and ships to play as. These changes don’t have any gameplay benefit, but you can change your ship to looks like a paper plane, flying briefcase or a whale, among other things.
Once you complete the final level you unlock the scrapyard that consists of scrapped levels the developer made that only reached the prototype stage. When you access this world it says these games were scrapped due to being broken or too difficult, so instead they’re here as bonus levels, and true to that warning these levels are both incredibly difficult and/or broken! A nice little addition that shows the developer can be incredibly sadistic with their level design if they wanted to be. With about 80 levels and 68 hidden coins the game can take anywhere upwards of a few hours to complete, depending on how good you are at videogames, though the draw of coming back to try and better your time to climb up the overall leaderboards is always looming.
The final product is a great game that combines both the hectic fast passed nature of Super Meat Boy with great aerial momentum based movement. The need to always be moving as fast as you can in the air lends itself so well to the time trial mechanics that I’m surprised there aren’t a lot of other games that combine them. Complete with a good mix of speedy levels and puzzle based levels, Nimbus has offers a great well-rounded experience that is definitely worth checking out.