You’ll find no end of physics platformers on Steam, but they’re notoriously difficult to get right. Without a solid physics system, mechanics that make the most of them, and scenarios that challenge your understanding of both, you’re left with games that are too frustrating or too boring. Any title that threads that needle deserves a look, and NightSky absolutely nails the trifecta with a charming, otherworldly presentation and a wide range of challenges to face.
There’s no story to speak of, aside from an intro scene where you discover an orb on the beach and start dreaming of the alien landscapes in the game proper. You control a glassy black sphere in these remote, shadowy places, your only goal being to exit to the right. The obstacles in your path can be as simple as hills or as complicated as spinning mazes and grinding gears. Most puzzles are solved simply by careful rolling, but some levels give you special abilities or limit you in some way. Sometimes you can roll more slowly and carefully, sometimes you can roll fast, sometimes you can control gravity, and so on. Additionally, there are levels where you use the ball to control some goofy vehicle or don’t control the ball at all, and instead control flippers or platforms to help it on its way.
There are about a dozen thematic areas, each divided into another dozen levels of three screens each. Losing your ball or getting stuck just starts you at the beginning of the three, so you never lose much progress by flubbing. The art style of each area is striking and full of creative details like tiny cities and alien creatures, and the sound design is appropriately reserved with simple effects and a fitting ambient soundtrack. If you’ve played Within a Deep Forest or any of the Knytt games it’ll feel very familiar, being made by the same fellow.
The challenge level isn’t terribly high once you get used to the traction of your ball, and a full playthrough should take about two hours. There’s a hard mode you can attempt afterwards if you want more, or you can hunt for hidden stars across the many areas. You won’t find any more bells and whistles than that, but the core of this game is rock-solid and that’s rare among physics platformers. With gorgeous levels built atop that solid foundation, there’s simply no reason to pass this one up. I consider NightSky a classic of the physics platformer genre, one that makes a great entry point for new players or a great example for new games.