Playing a preview build of Noita, a wizard-starring roguelike with some of the most spectacular pixel-physics I’ve ever witnessed, from some of the folks behind Crayon Physics Deluxe and The Swapper, is a journey. Spelunky, to which many favourable comparisons must be drawn, is famously unforgiving, but it’s jolly with it. Even those earliest deaths, while you’re learning the ropes, are more Frank Spencer than brutal savaging at the hands of some nameless horror. (I have given Noita’s many horrors names of my own, but they all end in “bastard”). Noita, though. Christ.
Noita is your first day at a new school and getting your face slammed into the playground tarmac before the assembly bell’s even rung. Noita is slipping and breaking your jaw as soon as you run out into surprise snow. Noita is Spelunky, if Spelunky began with Derek Yu unexpectedly sprinting into the room and kicking you in the balls.
Until it isn’t. Until, suddenly, I’m not seething while reading a message telling me I survived for 52 seconds, but instead cackling as I chuck a bomb into a bus-sized container of oil, which quickly floods most of the cave system with an ocean of living fire, as I plunge downwards, soaked in water so I’m left unscathed, hoovering up gold from the corpses of enemies I never even saw burn. Noita!
Then I land in a chin-deep pool of acid, a Dynamite Bastard pummels me with explosives while I desperately search for a way to clean it off me, and a Demon Tadpole Bastard that skitters around faster than I can aim at it chews my feet — and finally I collapse into a melted, burned, gnawed heap just two centimetres away from the level exit portal. Noita!
But now, when I die, I die with the joy in my heart at how incredible the light show’s been. “Every pixel is physically simulated”, or so the official line reads; in practice, this means tiny squares pouring like blazing liquid, dark caverns transformed within seconds from flat shadows to luminous, lethal fireworks, moving like a vast wave of chemical death.
I can set fire to the world, I can drown the world, I can freeze the world, I can poison the world, I can drill through the world – but the Bastards can do this too, a stray shot more than able to transform my safe egress into a nightmarish chain reaction, two dozen new ways to die in the space of a few metres.
The way these effects move never gets old. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, in all my years of watching tiny coloured squares light up. The destruction, the beautiful, undulating, spreading destruction.
In the midst of this chaos unbound, new strategies coalesce – summoning a raincloud to douse the flames, burning away the poison by igniting oil, mixing these fountains of strange liquid into new and terrible substances… All that depends on what tools you have found or bought (surviving a level takes you to a shop), and then combined into new, ingenious and/or catastrophic spells to be cast from your various wands.
Truth be told, I’ve barely scratched the surface of possibility in terms of this spell (and potion) combination system. Putting fire or acid everywhere, yes; applying bounce and triple-shot effects to ping little energy blasts around the caverns like maddened flea, yes; erm; that’s about it.
A combination of early deaths and the experience of playing generally being too madcap to yet think about exactly how to pull off more complicated strategies means I’m not quite getting to the truly inventive stuff. By God, we’re going to see some sights once this thing’s out in the world, though.
Noita drips with implied secrets, from the slightly opaque spell descriptions to the gleams and bangs of events and items and accidentally suiciding Bastards in distant, blocked off corners, to the way that painstakingly manipulating the jump physics in the very first screen can lead you to discover an entirely different part of the game. A treasure trove of dark wonders.
The idea that I would ever ‘beat’ Noita seems frankly laughable. I might survive it, sometimes, yes, but I’ll be surprised if I ever exhaust it. The mention of daily runs on the menu of this preview build seal my likely fate.
Concerns? Well, I find the act of wand-shooting slightly thin and unsatisfying, at least until more epic effects are stacked, but the same charge can be levelled at the pew-pew early stages of a Binding Of Isaac game, and we all know how big-big-big those adventures eventually become.
The spell combo system, meanwhile, feels a little cold and fragmented, in that I’m squinting and frowning as I try to work out what to load my wand with, as opposed to joyfully throwing in THIS and THAT and FIRE and ACID, but I’m fairly confident that this is just a matter of learning through (fatal) experience.
I also hit some horrible slowdown on occasion, presumably because, somewhere just off-screen, half the world was melting, pixel-by-pixel. But this is early, if otherwise impressively robust, code for a game due for release only when it’s ready, so I can’t pretend I’m worried.
What I am worried about is that ‘when it’s done’ is not nearly soon enough. You’re going to crave Noita.