Being cute is normally an acceptable thing for iOS protagonists, but in the world of Terra Noctis (Out Now, $2.99) it can get you expelled from nightmare school. Thus, the little shadow devil who stars in this platformer from FireFruitForge and Bulkypix has hatched a plan to get back in: he’ll hunt down the biggest, baddest boss in all the Dreamverse and eat its essence in hopes it will make him as mean-looking as a nightmare-in-training should be. Hey, I’ll take any excuse to run around in a game that looks and plays this beautifully.
The term “retro platformer” is often applied to Terra Noctis, but it’s important to distinguish this title from the simple platforming side-scrollers that have inundated iOS. Terra Noctis stands head and shoulders with Shantae: Risky’s Revenge as a title that shows off just how deep sprite-filled 2D action adventures can be. While a few design quirks might have even genre fans scratching their heads, this is one you’ll easily lose yourself in as long as you don’t have a complete aversion to the word “platforming.”
Terra Noctis uses the familiar approach of unlocking levels once the player has reached certain collection goals, so getting this little devil to the last boss requires that you search every nook and cranny for floating thingamajigs. While the level select menu allows plenty of room for skipping around, all the exploring is a real joy because Terra Noctis’ greatest accomplishments lie in environment design. Not only are levels absolutely huge, but secret warp points and bonus rooms capture a little of that linearity-breaking Super Mario Bros. feel. There’s always some fresh gameplay element waiting just around the corner, be it a new hazard or another type of object to interact with.
Where Terra Noctis feels very different from Shantae is that all the fun stuff is baked into the environment design rather than into the character. The game’s charm lies in the mad fun of pushing boulders over enemies, the challenge of using some new platform type to your advantage, and hopping onto a familiar for a bit of high flying action during specific level segments. That’s not to say the little devil doesn’t boast a thorough moveset. Ever at the player’s disposal are a double jump and a stomp attack, and the developer made a fantastic move in coupling virtual buttons with gesture controls: holding anywhere onscreen makes the hero lob a ball of nightmare goo at an angle the player specifies by dragging out from the touch point.
Terra Noctis does offer a limited set of temporary powerups that are usually purchased and equipped within the level select menu. Highlights include a higher jump, greater movement speed, and a balloon the hero whips out to maintain his ascent after a double jump. As you might guess, these can make a huge difference in the hero’s ability to access secrets; that’s why I feel the cancellation of these power-ups when he loses a life is a questionable design decision. Once this happens, the little nightmare-in-training starts at a checkpoint deprived of his powers, and the player faces a choice of slogging on without them or sacrificing progress to go back and re-purchase them if enough resources remain on hand (and no IAP system here that I could see, in case you’re wondering).
One could argue that this is an effective way of strengthening the player’s survival instinct, and I will certainly give it that much. It’s also true that Terra Noctis’ levels are designed so they can be basically finished without the power-ups. My greater concern lies with the fact that if any power-ups happen to pop out of an enemy or item box and are collected during a level in progress, they automatically override whatever the player has equipped on the hero. Access to the ability equip menu during levels, and not just on the level select screen, is something I would love to see in updates even if the death penalty remains. Seeing as Terra Noctis is so exploration-focused, I would also welcome minimaps as an aid for tracking down the elusive tokens needed to unlock the game’s bonus challenge levels.
Terra Noctis has the user interface down pat with the exception of the all-important jump button. It’s set diagonally upward from the action button and its touch area is a tad smaller than its visual size would suggest, and these quirks account for the occasional missed jump. An update to extend the jump button’s touch sensitivity area all the way down to the bottom-right corner of the screen should leave Terra Noctis’ UI in tip top shape.
Terra Noctis just oozes style; it’s games like this that make me thankful pixel artists still have some platforms to flock to and show off their uber talent! The environments are as varied and organic as they are intricate, and all the hero’s actions skillfully animated. Backing up the game’s visual presentation is a simply magical score by Duncan McPherson that blends Classical motifs into atmospheric New Age tracks. Terra Noctis can be counted on for a good ten hours, so if you’re on the lookout for a giant action adventure you’ll find it here.
iFanzine Verdict: While not without a few kinks, Terra Noctis will satisfy the sweet tooth of any action adventure or platforming fan on the lookout for a lengthy and continually evolving adventure.