Many games at the BIG Festival presented great and innovative ideas, and fortunately most of the finalists were able to turn these ideas into reality. That’s why Nova 111, from the North American studio Funktronic Labs, was a finalist for the Innovation Award. What at first sight appears to be a sci-fi turn-based game unfolds through real-time strategy at the same time. It’s a very smart idea designed with care and attention.
Unlike the many other games I’ve previewed from the festival so far, Nova 111 presents a story that always makes sense within the context of the gameplay, thus reminding the player what the adventure is about and why the game mechanics are the way they are. This is done in a very smooth way, and there are no boring dialogue boxes.
Somewhere in space-time, everyone was living in a turn-based world, until 111 scientists began studying the real-time dimension and how to get full access to it from their own world. When a part of the experiment went terribly wrong, they accidentally mashed the two worlds together and created a universe where all the scientists then got lost; this is where the game happens. The player’s mission is to pilot a research vessel called NOVA and look for the lost scientists across the new, extraterrestrial environment filled with strange creatures and crumbling structures, while trying to understand how these two dimensions mix up.
The advantage of said mash up for the gameplay is that the turns are highly dynamic. The ship’s movement is classic turn-based on a grid, moving one square at a time. With each movement, it’s possible to see the entire grid and how NOVA immediately responds, moving fast to the adjacent squares. All characters on the screen move every turn, and there is no ‘monsters turn’ or ‘player turn.’ When the ship moves, the monsters also move and the turn count increases by one. As I was getting used to the turn-based mechanics, suddenly the real-time element was introduced. It took one death to understand why the monster was moving when I was not, but once I realized that this specific monster was from the real-time dimension, everything got a bit easier.
Having to mix these two completely different playstyles felt a bit messy in the beginning, but also made the game more interesting and dynamic. I was expecting that Nova 111 would lean more towards the real-time side in later levels, however it was slowly getting closer to a perfect balance between the two styles, alternating between a highly dynamic turn-based game and a slow-paced real-time strategy. It was frankly, very well executed.
The 2D artwork and the sci-fi soundtrack help in setting the game’s mood. The first environment is painted mostly in tones of red, yellow and blue, although it varies from world to world. The general artstyle is vibrant and calming at the same time, while the soundtrack is based on common sci-fi tunes to make the extraterrestrial environment more convincing.
There are also some power-ups and items to be found in the stages, like laser weapons and special utilities that freeze both space-times and allow the player to move freely and avoid hazards. In certain spots, there were posts that would fix the spaceship by a certain amount when hit by it, and there was also a kind of green slime with a health bar in several stages and spots. No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to understand its effects and I’ve yet to find out its significance. It would be great to have something to explain how these items work in the final build.
In general, Nova 111 seems to be a project near its completion. The mechanics are incredibly simple, innovative and balanced, the game is visually attractive, and the plot is interesting and engaging. The only thing it’s missing, like almost every other game I’ve talked about so far, is some basic explanation about game elements. However, even without that, Nova 111 is the strategy game I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the most. Fortunately I won’t have to wait too long, since the game will be released this August for PC and Mac, and next year for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, and Xbox One. Further information can be found on Funktronic’s website.