Nine Sols is an upcoming 2D action platformer developed by Red Candle, the folks behind horror games Devotion and Detention. It's a pretty big leap from their usual fare, but based on a 40 minute demo I got to play this week, it's worked out a treat. There's a hint of Sekiro in there, with katana clashing combat, combined with a mysterious story that has me itching to know more. This is rare for someone like me, who often cares more for the action than the characters. Hey, keep an eye on this one.
The Nine Sols demo begins with a splat. You, a warrior cat, are dangling off a cliff edge as an evil ronin cat watches on. They say something inaudible – probably, "try jumping", if I were to guess - and watch you fall. An aerial shot confirms that, yes, your guts are now vulture pickings. Suddenly, some magical tentacles sprout from the earth and slide you into their embrace. After an unspecified amount of time later, a boy playing a flute sees your eyes spring open amidst the rocks. He takes you in and you become bros, naturally.
It's a cool opening and sets the scene for what's to come. The boy is part of a tribe who believe in Sols, gods who choose lucky folks to ascend to their realm. Dialogue is a bit stilted between the two of you, but it does enough to make you care for the little tike. He's excited for a special ceremony, and later you wander through a village that's wonderfully illustrated - bit Hollow Knight, a bit Spiritfarer - and has heaps of character.
Tribespeople dance and pray and light firecrackers. Text-boxes pop up as you stroll by, offering little insights into their beliefs. Speak to folks and detailed portraits breathe even more life into them. Nine Sols' presentation is beautiful, and will often have you stopping for a while just to drink in the quiet moments.
To cut a long story short, the ceremony isn't what it seems, and you're not what you seem, either. There's a dark undertone to it all, which fully captured my attention. Red Candle call it "Taopunk" and somehow I know exactly what that means. Somewhere underneath the stars and the soil, there's a mechanical underbelly calling the shots. Immediately, you need to know more.
So, you dive into a mysterious facility and take your katana to the evil doers. It's here where Nine Sols demonstrates its Sekiro influence. Combat comes down to one thing: timing. Enemies slash or shoot, and it's up to you to parry their attacks at just the right time. Do so and you'll leave them wide open for a quick combo. Get the timing wrong and you'll see a big chunk of health disappear, although that's nothing a quick puff of the green stuff won't fix. Like other Souls and Metroid-likes, you're limited to only so many puffs between checkpoints, but the ultimate aim is to move between these checkpoints and reach the big bad.
The game's combat is fun, especially against bosses with more demanding attack patterns and harder hitting blows. By no means is it easy, but the game does a good job of easing you in gently. Early exploration is... fine. The facility looks grand, unsurprisingly, but there's not a great deal of challenging jumps or puzzles or secrets. It's clear the game's focus is getting you acquainted with combat early on, but I hope it'll start introducing new ways to scoot around tricky platforming sections later on.
From very brief demo I played, Nine Sols is shaping up to be a 2D platformer worth keeping an eye on. While the combat and the exploration still have something left to prove, the story definitely seems like it'll be strong enough to drive you forwards anyway. And let's not forget the art work, which is ridiculous. Too pretty to ignore.
Nine Sols is still in the middle of its crowdfunding campaign at the moment, but is currently sitting at 188% funded, having quickly smashed its initial goal last week. It's nearing another milestone too, which looks to add a story mode if it's hit. The game itself is currently due out sometime in 2023, but the good news is you'll be able to play this exact demo to get a taste of it yourself next week. Keep an eye on Red Candle's website and crowdfunding page to find out more.