Somebody get these squirrels some helmets!
As much as I loved the vehicle customization and puzzle-like aspects of 2012’s Bad Piggies, in some ways, Noble Nutlings is the game I always wanted Bad Piggies to be. The first release from ex-Rovio team Boomlagoon, Noble Nutlings is a fantastic physics-based racing game, where razor-sharp reflexes will determine whether you cross that finish line in balloon-bursting glory, or land in a heap of leaves and twigs on the forest floor.
There’s no real story to be found here in Noble Nutlings, but the game doesn’t really need one to strike an immediate chord with mobile gamers and squirrel enthusiasts of all ages. The Nutlings are three pudgy little squirrel-like creatures, with a no-nonsense attitude and insatiable appetite for fast wheels and dangerous jumps. It’s just so amusing to me how stone-cold determined the Nutlings look as they’re speeding down a deadly incline: these little guys are seriously intent on collecting their acorns.
The game has a very clean and polished look to it, from the crisp menu designs, to the fluid animations that pan with the screen as you scurry right along. The controls are both simple and responsive, with one button to accelerate, another to boost, and the tilt of your device to send the Nutlings spinning around in mid-air. The tilting mechanics can take a little getting used to, but there’s also an optional touch input for that, so either way it won’t be long before you’re an old pro at tilting your kart to just the right angle and snagging that last tricky acorn.
Seasoned Angry Birds fans will spot the visual similarities with Noble Nutlings almost instantly; but the bright cartoony graphics of Noble Nutlings can give Angry Birds and Bad Piggies a serious run for their money. Each track is built around an incredible multilayered background, with wispy clouds, windy trees, and distant valleys that work together to create an amazing depth of field. The first batch of stages has you racing along serene grassy hillsides, while the second batch features twisting routes on branches high atop the trees. The game is a little on the short side though as it currently stands, with a mere 36 stages for the game’s initial release. However, additional level packs are already in the works for future updates, and so I’m looking forward to whatever kinds of nutty environments we’ll find the Nutlings racing in next!
As you play, you rack up coins by plowing through obstacles or knocking over Pinky, the strange pink rabbit-something-or-other that always tends to wander directly in your path. Coins can be used to buy new bodies or wheels for your vehicle, which affect your overall speed or handling, and encourage you to experiment to find that winning combination. The different vehicle parts you can buy really reflect the game’s quirky sense of humor, with a bathtub, clown shoe, and banana frame being some of the standout designs (I’m partial to the watermelon wheels myself). But if you have something against bananas or clown shoe-shaped cars, you can always save your money and restock on chili fuel instead: to keep on boosting and earning the fastest times. It did concern me at first that your chili fuel could permanently run out (as boosting is often required to 3-star most levels), but you’ll quickly amass more than enough coins across all of your runs so that you’re never just running on fumes. Better yet, you’ll still have some extra change left over to pimp your Nutling ride.
Despite its innocent appearance, Noble Nutlings will give even the most hardcore of gamers a cruising for a bruising. I’m not sure which task in the game is more difficult: collecting every acorn in a level, or earning that coveted 3-star finishing time. Each one is a true testament of patience, and greatly increases the replay value of the game as you’ll need to play each level in completely different ways to achieve the two respective goals.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the unicycle stages. After every five stages, a bonus unicycle stage will come along to ruin your day, as they are the most insanely difficult (though incredibly rewarding) challenges the game has to offer. Not only are these bonus stages more unforgiving in terms of their layout, but you’ll also have to balance on top of a unicycle the entire time by tilting your device back and forth as you drive. Yes, it’s as frustrating as it sounds. It also doesn’t help that on some levels, the camera will zoom out so far that the Nutlings are rendered no bigger than a tiny speck on your screen, which makes nailing down your timing and precision all the more tough.
Even though it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel of physics-based racers, or serve as a visual departure from what the developers know best, Noble Nutlings is still a highly fun and highly quality title, and it shows that Boomlagoon have certainly set the bar high for themselves going forward. As great as the game is now, I only see it getting better as new levels are added and additional gameplay mechanics are introduced. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go help a few friends secure some more acorns before the next winter comes.