Now, fair point in advance: Noitu Love 2, from developer Konjak (dot org), is an oldie as far as this column is concerned, first seeing the light of day in April 2008. So why am I writing about it now, almost four years after launch? The answer, as it so often is, is opportunity: Noitu Love 2 debuted on Steam only a few months back, and was a part of the very recent ‘June Bug’ Indie Royale bundle. I’d heard the game name before, and the video certainly made it look interesting, so when opportunity came knocking… who was I to complain?
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, unimportant.)
The very first thing I notice about Noitu Love 2 — fact one — is the weird way it sits in my screen. I’m seeing a borderless window, no discernible edges, at what’s looking like a very square resolution: experimentation places the resolution at about 957 by 718. This is a really weird size, but I assume there’s a reason of sorts for it.
Noitu Love 2 opens with a slideshow introduction that explains the backstory: In Noitu Love 1, in the year 2188, a madman called Darnacus Damnation tried to take over the world by turning everyone into monkeys and using a robot army of Grinning Darns. He was defeated by the titular hero, Noitu Love, and whooped so handily that everyone just kind of forgot about the whole deal afterwards. It’s now 2288, and history is set to repeat itself in more ways than one…
The second thing I notice about Noitu Love 2 is that there’s really no Options menu of any kind. This means no full-screening the game, which (in turn) means no Fraps or Steam Screenshots. Yes, today I’m slumming things Print-Screen style.
The third thing I notice about Noitu Love 2 is that it’s really, really reluctant to give up screen priority. As in, it will overlap everything ever, with the notable exception of the Task Manager. Do you have any idea how hard it is to manually save screenshots when every ‘Do you wish to save changes’ dialog screen is hidden by the very game you’re trying to review? I know how hard is it: it’s pretty hard.
These things aside, there’s not a whole lot to talk about here. I decide to run the Tutorial first: much like I expected, Noitu Love 2 contains an actual gameplay tutorial. Wait, that puts it in the ‘Initial impressions’ section, right?
I’m always a fan of gameplay-oriented tutorials, and Noitu Love 2 does a pretty decent job of informing me of the basics quickly. Both the arrow keys and WASD are used for movement — bonus points there — with the Down/S options resulting in the best ‘ducking’ animation I’ve seen in a long while.
Noitu Love 2′s control scheme incorporates both keyboard and mouse: there’s a mouse-moving crosshair on-screen at all times, and left clicking repeatedly allows me to dash to (when far from the target) and attack (when close). I can also hold left mouse to charge and fire a massive energy bullet, or hold left mouse near an enemy to grab and throw it across the screen. Right mouse lets me place a temporary shield — anywhere, ever — and both right-clicking and dragging or double-tapping the movement keys gives me a few dash-y special moves. That’s the list, as far as I can tell.
This description’s a little dry, isn’t it? I’m really glad Noitu Love 2 opted for a active tutorial, because the only way to properly experience what controlling this character (‘Xoda Rap’, apparently) is like is by actually doing it. See, I can run, jump, wall-jump and ducks, and I probably will do so at some point. But Xoda’s main method of getting around is undoubtedly the left-click dash, which propels her across the screen towards enemies, boxes, special grab-and-hold rings, and whatever else the game will put in my way later. Dash to an enemy, and repeated left clicks chain together a combo of melee attacks. Then, when your box/enemy explodes, dash to another one and smack that to death. Rinse, repeat. Notice that ‘touching the ground’ is not a part of that description: even in the tutorial room, it’s trivially easy to have Xoda air-dash from enemy to enemy, never stopping or calming down, like some sort of hyper-aggressive pinball. Even if there are no enemies on-screen, alternating the various double-tap dash moves allows you to stay airborne almost indefinitely.
I spend a couple minutes gleefully smacking around the infinitely respawning exploding boxes in the tutorial room before deciding that, yes, I’ve probably got the basics of this down by now. Besides, I’m curious to see what the actual game will be like: if the tutorial already amounts to five minutes of self-contained madness, I have some good hopes for the story.
Back in the menu, I start a New Game — Hard, of course — and find myself in a simple apartment room, staring down a grinning helicopter.
Turns out the Grinning Darns from the first Noitu Love game are back, for some reason! It’s up to me to… well, run away from the menacing helicopter, at first. But afterwards, I’m to progress in a linear fashion, always right-ward, to hopefully find out what’s going on.
I’m immediately proven right in my earlier assumptions as the simple act of walking rightward causes an endless amount of grinning robots to appear. Well, ‘endless’: they spawn in groups of three or four, but they don’t seem to stop spawning if I linger in place. I can stay and beat up robots for as long as I want, but there’s a timer ticking up ever-so-persistently, and a bolt-based health bar on the upper left adds the element of my own death to the mix.
What kind of game is Noitu Love 2? I’d describe it as a score-based brawler. My objective is to move from left to right, beat up robots, and survive. Regular robots spawn indefinitely, as I’ve mentioned, harassing me almost everywhere in small groups. There are also quite a few location-based enemies, like mobile turrets or special flamethrower-wielding robots, and some halfway puzzle-fights, like a return of the giant helicopter, whose shots I have to dodge. And, of course, boss fights. After running through the first level for about five minutes, I encounter a massive spiked robot boat. If you’ve played games like this before — if you’ve played games before — you can probably guess how this goes: the boss does a couple of telegraphed, avoidable attacks, before opening up its weak point for a little while for me to wail on. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s over-the-top enough to get a chuckle out of me.
Smashing enemies yields points. Smashing enemies in an expedient manner yields more points. Smashing groups of enemies in an expedient manner yields even more points. Points are their own reward in Noitu Love 2, as evidences by the fact that the game grades me after beating the aforementioned death boat.
So far, Noitu Love 2 is proving to be highly entertaining. If I had to slap an arbitrary made-up descriptor on it, I’d call it a flow-based skill challenge game. The first level was easy enough to convince me that the goal isn’t so much ‘get from point A to point B’ as ‘get from point A to point B in an amazing, exploding manner, and have fun while doing so’. Controlling Xoda takes a little while to get used to, initially, but before long I was zipping across the screen like a mouse cursor in a tumble dryer, gleefully making everything explode, throwing robots at other robots, and placing bullet-blocking shields in front of exploding turrets, causing them to blow themselves up (this never gets old, ever). It’s bright, fast and flashy, and it’s really easy to just turn your brain down and go with the exploding flow for maximum effect.
Having said that, I do wonder how long this’ll remain amusing for. Even on Hard, the game doesn’t seem very challenging yes. It’s possible that this changes later on, but it’s also possible it doesn’t. And I, as a rule, don’t really care about arbitrary scores. I guess I will keep playing for the story, at least, if only to see where it goes. I’m currently being sent to an area of the city that’s been turned into Victorian London, for some reason? I’m sure it won’t be terribly difficult.
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