Want More Pay-What-You-Want Goodness? Try “Nikki and the Robots”

What strikes me about the Humble Bundles so far is that not only do you get a fair deal, in terms of price and being treated like a grown adult by not crippling the various media on offer with DRM, but the content itself is generally well above average. In the case of the Humble Bundles, I think credit goes to the various editors and curators who have put the packages together. However, there may be some correlation between the choice to use this business model and incredibly talented and creative folks.

Case in point: Nikki and the Robots.

A listener of mine who has been working on this game emailed me right as the Humble eBook Bundle was climbing towards its staggering $1.2M peak. Right away, the similarities are clear. The Humble Indie Bundles that contain video games have all been cross platform, like Nikki, as well as sporting the pay what you want model and foregoing the burdens of DRM, also like Nikki.

The studio behind this game, Joyride Labs, has gone further. There is a full, playable version you can snag for free. And it is available under an open source license (some of the Humble Bundle games have been openl licensed as a condition of meeting sales targets.) The free version comes with a level editor and there are a good number of sample and contributed levels that demonstrate the various charms of the game. What you get if you set your price and buy the story episode is a narrative mode that completes the full on nostalgia this game brings for 8-bit platformers. While there is currently only one story episode so far, more are promised and buying the first episode nets you all the future ones at no additional cost.

So what about the game itself? The pixel art is an unmistakable and loving homage to Nikki’s earliest ancestors. Even the character design and overall look and feel are a whimsical throwback to games without hugely elaborate backstories, but tantalizing hints about why the characters throw themselves around their frenetic, brightly colored 2D worlds.

Don’t let the graphic design fool you. Gameplay is smooth, convincing and challenging in a way that belies the vintage look, revealing deep roots in realistic physics models and an ethos in puzzle design clearly meant to inspire the player to new heights, often literally, through near impossible challenges and the amazing sense of accomplishment that comes of just nearly squeaking through to toggle the last switch, to collect the last battery. The titular robots add a twist that was a later development for the platformer genre as a whole but one that when used well extends the playability and the enjoyment. It is deployed to excellent effect in Nikki, offering the player at various points throughout each level, the ability to take control of one or more robots, the different abilities of each adding a subtle and engaging variation on the game play that also more fully shows off the Chipmunk physics engine.

My sole complaint as a long time gamer who has most recently been taken with gaming on my phone and tablet is the lack of an Android port. That is really a minor drawback as the game is fun, beautiful and engaging enough on any of the OSes on which it does run to draw me back to my various Linux machines to tease out a little more of the well crafted story and enjoy the original and addictive soundtrack.

Of course, with a free to play option, you certainly don’t have to take my word for it alone. Go on, download it and let me know what you think; better yet let me know if you agree its worth kicking in to see what episode 2 may hold in store or what other wonderful projects Joyride Labs may yet undertake.

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