One of iOS’ finest. Fantastic aesthetics, precise controls and engaging gameplay.
Dark Nebula: Episode 2 Review
by on May 13, 2011
It’s not fully clear what’s going on in the Dark Nebula universe, since veteran developer Anders Hejdenberg hasn’t provided a storyline to go along with his games. For reasons unknown, a disc-like vehicle, which we will call Brian, has decided to infiltrate partially derelict and rather hostile enemy fortifications. Each level therefore tasks Brian with battling his way through environmental hazards (bridges over chasms, walls, locked doors) and hugely varied automated defence systems.
The first thing that becomes apparent in Dark Nebula 2 is that, just like its predecessor, the production values are first-rate. There’s a real sense of atmosphere as Brian goes about his tasks. The graphics vary from steamy jungles to glowing sci-fi zones, with many of the installations taking on a mix of steampunk and organic tech design influences. It’s all very pretty, but there’s also a solid feel to proceedings, and everything’s backed by a rousing soundtrack – one of the very few in an iOS game that we’ve never felt the need to turn off in favour of a selection from the iPod app.
The game’s controls are broadly the same as in the original Dark Nebula: you tilt your device and Brian moves in the appropriate direction. A two-finger touch recalibrates everything if you change position (all other developers of tilt-based games, take note) and the controls are tight, meaning when Brian gets clobbered, you’ve only got yourself to blame. The levels also superficially resemble the first Dark Nebula, but whereas Hejdenberg undersold that product as a ‘labyrinth’ game, Dark Nebula 2 moves further away from the genre’s basic roots. Sure, there are mazes aplenty, along with simple puzzles throughout, and the game is primarily a dexterity test. However, Dark Nebula 2 is a world away from ‘roll a marble around a box’. You get moving platforms, pathways that vanish after a countdown, lasers, whirling barriers, boost pads that fling Brian into the air and, in a departure from the original game, mobile and rather vicious foes.
In early levels, you’ll encounter lumbering red-eyed automatons with scythe-like edges, tracking Brian’s every move; later, you’ll discover nasty, zippy spider-like critters, deadly metallic snakes and some particularly unfriendly bosses. Your means of attack is usually moving over an icon that arms Brian with a spinning orb of death, which you can carefully use to blow up your attackers. In some cases, you instead need to bound into the air and smash your foes from above. Running away is rarely an option, since the destruction of enemies is often mandatory to open locked doors.
There’s very little not to like in Dark Nebula 2. There are a few cheap moments later on when it’s clear the game is trying to kill you (mostly centring around strings of moving boost panels floating over deadly chasms) and the last level goes off the boil somewhat with a radical departure in gameplay that doesn’t really come off. But these are minor niggles in a game that we consider an App Store classic. Even the best gamers will spend a couple of hours getting through all 20 stages. If that’s not you, the smooth difficulty curve throughout, along with the extra lives and shields sprinkled around each level (it pays to explore in Dark Nebula 2), means the game rarely becomes frustrating. There’s also replay value via online leaderboards and end-of-level awards (for speed, lives lost and the number of orbs collected).