Nightgate has this somewhat odd backstory where the last living thing on planet Earth is a massive network of computers that have their own intelligence. So basically good Skynet, I guess? Your job in Nightgate is to explore the network’s digital world — activating things, avoiding other things, and steadily making your way further and further.
Playing Nightgate is very straightforward. You drag a finger on the screen to change direction, and that’s it. You’ll have to move over specific spots/nodes/whatever to access the next area, and you’ll want to avoid anything that’s bright red — but you won’t need to split your focus in a million different directions. Just move around and avoid the bad stuff.
The controls work well enough. They feel a teensy bit clunky when trying to make tight turns, but there’s usually enough space between angry red things to dodge through without a problem. In the event that there are smaller gaps or other situations that require more precise timing, the levels almost always throw in a sort of time-slowing bubble around the tricky areas. Just wander into one of these and everything will slow down, giving you enough time to react and adjust your course.
Right from the start, I found myself seriously digging Nightgate’s style. The way it combines simple geometric shapes into new and interesting patterns (usually with animations) works really well to drive the whole “you’re inside a computer!” concept home. The way things glow and often seem to float off into the background add a surprising amount of depth to the graphics as well. It looks sort of like a combination of Tilt to Live and Rez, and I’m all kinds of okay with that.
Sometimes the presentation gets in the way of the gameplay, though. While I absolutely appreciate the way the camera sometimes shifts around to give you an interesting vantage point (and makes for all kinds of wonderful screenshot fodder), it also tends to make navigation a lot harder. Sacrificing the ability to see what’s coming for the sake of a pretty view just doesn’t seem worth it.
And as much as I do enjoy the visuals on display here, I sort of wish Nightgate mixed things up just a little bit more. Levels are usually distinct enough thanks to the use of background geometry and the color of the various floating shapes that aren’t out to get you, but it all kind of blurs together after a few levels. Once you’ve seen one abstract digital landscape of floating shapes, you’ve sort of seen them all.
Nightgate is an pretty cool mixture of laid back and frantic; plain and pretty; varied and repetitive. It might not be action-y enough for some, or relaxing enough for others, but I think it’s worth checking out regardless. It’s a fun, sort of unique mash-up of puzzles and survival, set in a post-apocalyptic computer world. And it’s pretty!