Proof 2D Action Isn’t Dead
Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes, Viewtiful Joe – there’s something truly satisfying about how those games combine 2D with non-stop action. Throwing 3D in the mix would almost take something away; the cramped quarters and constant push to the right of the screen keep the immediacy of play on the tip of your mind. By the end of the game you realize you haven’t blinked in quite some time and your eyes are red – the sign of an exhausting (albeit an extremely fun) gaming session. If all the aforementioned titles could be thrown in a sizable pot, what would you end up with? You’d have in your hands one of the most impressive independent games to come along in some time. You’d have Noitu Love 2 – Devolution.
Developed by Konjak, which is a one-man development studio fronted by Joakim Sandberg, the numbering in the title might throw some gamers off. Yes, there was a previous Noitu Love game developed for the PC a while back (you can grab it for free over at konjak.org). It put you in the role of a superhero main character named Noitu Love, who battles a robot army led by Darnacus Damnation. This sequel retains the same bad guy (with a few new ones throw in), but swaps out Noitu Love for a new main character: Xoda Rap. And really, that’s all there is to the story. But it’s all that’s really needed – you’ve got your motivation (defeat the evil robot army) and along you go.
You’re able to forgive what little there is in the form of story because the overall gameplay is so fine-tuned. This may seem out of the ordinary for what seems like a standard action game, but let’s talk about controls. The assumption would be that a standard control pad would be the perfect match or, perhaps as a fall back, simple arrow controls with the obligatory jump and attack buttons. Not here. The setup is more FPS inspired – a WASD keyboard and mouse combo may seem foreign, but it ends up being more responsive than any control pad would ever be.
Since we’re talking two dimensions, A moves the character left; D, right; W allows you to jump; and S ducks. You can double tap on W, A or D to perform special attacks. This occupies your left hand and leaves your right free for mouse-specific actions. You left click to attack (you hold the button down to charge attack or grab and throw enemies) and right click to throw up an energy shield, which can block enemy attacks and stop pesky environmental obstacles (such as scorching fire vents). There is always a targeting reticule visible on the screen. Aiming with it and left clicking allows for context sensitive actions; you can grab onto hooks in a Bionic Commando-like style or simply click on enemies to zip across the screen and begin a beatdown. As you become more comfortable with the controls, you’ll realize that by targeting enemies and jetting across the screen you can build massive air combos.
A proper control set means nothing if a 2D game isn’t paired with inventive level design. But that’s not a worry here. Each of the game’s seven levels has its own unique theme (such as robot cowboys and Indians) bolstered by a set of interesting twists. One level has you stuck in an out-of-control elevator that rockets up, only to then barrel down the screen. This forces the main character onto the ceiling and floor, respectively, while still tossing an ample amount of enemies on the screen. Another gravity scenario has you jumping on arrow pads to change the pull of gravity in the room during a mini-boss fight. There’s even an air combat level that plays a like a classic side scrolling shooter.
You can’t beat on the same cannon fodder-esque robots all day long. That’s where the boss fights come in. Boss fights in 2D games are always about sound pattern recognition – learn the schedule of enemy attacks, and you’re golden. Here the formula’s no different, but the execution is just so well done. You’ll been racing on top of a water wheel careening down a river while fighting one boss; another puts you in charge of a giant keyboard that triggers attacks – hit the right key, and the boss takes a massive wallop. Perhaps one of the most inventive bosses is a digital signal that controls a set of T.V. channels; every time a new channel is triggered, a new set of attacks occur. For example, when the channel flips to sports, a soccer player appears and kicks a ball out of the screen toward the foreground; this results in a massive explosion.
Tying together all this frantic action is a colorful sprite-based graphical engine. Sure, nothing is hi-def, but that’s not the point. It’s all about fluid animation and keeping things moving along at a constant pitch. This allows the game to play homage to the classic Treasure games which surely had an influence on the developer. Not only is it refreshing to see a sprite-based game, but it means that it won’t be taxing your computer hardware. To illustrate: the game was reviewed on a generic, two-year-old desktop and there was never a single frame rate dip. Underpinning the presentation is a solid MIDI soundtrack that ties together the old school 2D package. Each level has its own identifiable, catchy theme.
The fine tuning of the game comes through in the difficulty department. The screen may look ever-chaotic but the situation is always manageable. The game never crosses that all too common line into frustrating territory. You may die from time-to-time trying to figure out enemy patterns, but once learned, the strategy shifts from just clearing levels to getting the best letter grade. The formula for this grade is made up of overall time, enemies destroyed, top combos, and hits taken.
With Noitu Love 2 – Devolution, Konjak has absolutely hit the 2D nail on the head: it plays like a long-lost gem from the Treasure catalog, while still managing to flesh out its own quirky identity. Action fans don’t want to pass this one up.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
The sprites, combined with a bright color palate and great animation, make for a nice display. An added bonus: you don’t need a powerhouse PC to get the most out of the game. 4.9 Control
Tight, responsive, and customizable – a perfect showcase for how 2D action/platforming controls should be done on PC. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Gun blasts, explosions – they all are satisfying. MIDI rules the day (in an old school way) when it comes to the soundtrack. 4.4 Play Value
Sure, the game is a bit on the short side (a little over an hour) by today’s standards, but it more than makes up for that brevity with absolutely frantic gameplay. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.