Niko Through the Dream is a game I first became aware of a few weeks ago via twitter after seeing a random auspicious retweet. With its mix of Escher-like floating islands and the promise of devious puzzles, my malnourished and forgotten Portal receptors were called into action.
The first offering from developer Studio Paint, Niko is a 1st person puzzle game featuring movement and logic based portions alongside some 3D platforming. It begins nice and gently, without any direct signals or signposts and gives you free reign to explore the minimalistic world taking as much time as you need, for the most part without penalty.
The puzzles are, as I suspect will be the case generally, my main draw to the game and on the whole they are satisfying and well-conceived. Depending on your personal taste some sections may miss the mark slightly but for the general audience, I think the entertaining/annoying balance is pretty much on point. I rarely became stuck because something was too cryptic or obtuse; none of the puzzles felt cheap or expected too much of the player. If you are a veteran to this genre or a paid up member of MENSA then you will almost certainly find the majority of the tasks rather too everyday but that’s not to say fun won’t be had. Puzzles can involve shapes, sound, colour or more mechanical elements and the difficulty ramps up gently but consistently. I didn’t get the impression that all the good puzzles were squeezed into the early game and then bulked up with filler thereafter.
The environments you travel to are varied and not restricted to the monochrome as a lot of the games screenshots would suggest; yes they’re a little clichéd with the green level and the ice level but each puzzle and area represents a defining point in the protagonists past and as such avoid feeling like they’ve just been shoehorned in just to conform to gaming tropes. Each different space feels unique and considered, not ‘let’s do a green level next’.
I played with controller and felt that while the simple control scheme was serviceable enough, the option to swap key bindings, change sensitivity and invert view would have increased my enjoyment and lessened my frustration, especially in the more fiddly moments.
Speaking of frustrating, fiddly moments; I found nearly all of the platforming sections to be clunky and not really all that fun by comparison, especially when faced with aggravating checkpoints that may send you back 3 or 4 steps and controls that don’t feel at all suited to precision jumping, especially without having visible legs to gauge your landing.
Along with the out and out puzzle sections, the soundtrack was a highlight for me and complimented the world without ever drifting into repetition which I imagine it is something quite demanding to account for when you don’t know how long your player may be in the same location.
There are numerous collectibles throughout which do reward you with more than the usual tick in the box and steam achievement, but I have a young child so hunting for things is a day to day chore I don’t seek to simulate in my slightly ephemeral free time.
At around 6 hours long it neither hits that point where you’re ready for the ending to come, nor does it leave you aching for more which is I think as fair as approximation of how I feel after the ending played out. At its current price of around £6.50 I actually found the game to be of perfect length and nicely segmented which allowed me to get bits done before having to dive back into real life for a few hours. Upon my return I felt as though I’d picked up right where I’d left off.
I’d love to see what the developers come out with next as the fundamentals are absolutely nailed on. Whether it’s a sequel of sorts or completely new venture, I for one will be keeping an eye out on twitter for the next rouge tweet that signals a new game.