Mobile Game of the Week: Terra Noctis (iOS)

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Mobile Game of the Week: Terra Noctis (iOS)

Terra Noctis

Platform: iOS
Developer/Publisher: Bulkypix
Release Date: 12/20/2011
Price: $0.99

As Tom Bissell describes in his book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, 2D platformers are quite possibly the most fundamental of all video games — a genre that’s been engrained into the minds of gamers. It’s no surprise that both developers and gamers have gravitated back to the nostalgic genre. Unfortunately, usually due to sloppy touch controls, iOS has seen its fair share of bad 2D platformers. While still far from perfect, Terra Noctis gets right what a lot of games have been unable to do.

The first thing I noticed about the game was how tight the controls felt. With just two left-right arrows and two virtual buttons, the developers have given us everything we need to efficiently explore the wonderful 2D landscapes. Terra Noctis has a delightful art style, looking like a beautiful storybook. It reads like a European children’s book, following the story of a young nightmare monster called Allen who is too cute for nightmare school (think Monster’s Inc.). Landscapes look as if they’ve been hand-painted and intricate animation details really bring the world to life. Unfortunately, there is very little variation in the four different “worlds” — in fact, all of them look almost exactly the same, which is a real shame.

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The game also falls into a lot of what has become the genre’s gameplay cliches. Most enemies and environmental hazards have direct correlations to units in classic franchises like Super Mario Bros., and almost every puzzle operates about as I expect. There are things to collect and places to explore, but it all feels undeniably familiar. I did really enjoy the game’s emphasis on non-linear exploration, always making sure to give the player multiple paths to the finish line. Furthermore, there are a large amount of levels to play through, so you will get plenty of bang for your .99.

There are a handful of bugs and translation problems, but if those were my only gripes with the game, I would be happy with just a quick update. However, my main problem with Terra Noctis is a bit more significant. Platformers live and die on level design — it’s one of the primary differences between the biggest platformer franchises in the industry and those that are forgotten. Terra Noctis could have been fantastic if level design had been in the forefront of the developer’s minds, but as I played through the game I couldn’t shake the feeling that many of the stages felt like rearrangements of previous stages.

I’ve come to expect a bit more imagination from developers on a platform as new and fresh as iOS. Even still, I want to give credit where credit as due: Terra Noctis handles really well, looks beautiful, is fun and accessible and has an awesome soundtrack — all things that already set it apart from most 2D platformers in the App Store.