I've no idea what the plot behind Dark Nebula is about because there's no introduction to tell you. In fairness, though, it's one of those games that really doesn't need one. The easiest way to explain it is to say that it's what you would get if a maze game mated with a platform game. You controls a small spaceship that must make its way through a maze-like environment, collecting orbs along the way. Various hazards and enemies will try to stop you and there are a few simple puzzles to solve before you reach the end.
The strength of Dark Nebula lies in the beautifully crafted levels and well-balanced gameplay. Each new level introduces a couple of new elements that add something to the gameplay. None are particularly original (moving platforms, speed up points, jump points to help you get over larger gaps) but they have been integrated into the game very well. Levels are incredibly well-designed so that they constantly challenge you, but never feel unfair. Just occasionally, the first time you come across a new element, it's not clear what it is and whether you should avoid it or collect it, but make one mistake and you soon learn from it.
In this sense the difficulty level is well-judged. It's a real test of your reflexes, but it's also scrupulously fair. Each time you die, it's because you made a mistake. You learn from that mistake and so, on your next attempt, you get that little bit further, thus fuelling your determination to carry on. It's addictive stuff and whilst Dark Nebula is quite well-suited to "a quick game", there's probably no such thing!
The graphics may be relatively simple (recalling to mind Amiga games of the early 1990s), but they look superb. Particularly in the HD version, there is a lushness and level of detail that really makes them stand out. This is particularly true of the backgrounds which are varied and interesting and work well with the overall look of the game. The only small gripe is that the overall colour scheme is quite dark (predominantly dark greens, blacks, greys and so on.) Occasional this can make it tricky to spot holes that need to be avoided, especially if you're playing the game in strong light conditions.
Sound is equally 90s Amiga-sounding, but highly effective. There's a decent enough soundtrack with a strong beat that plays throughout each level. This is the perfect example of the game musician's art - it's ideally suited to the game and gets the adrenalin pumping, but it's not too intrusive. In-game sound effects are relatively minimal, but good. The loud thudding noise that accompanies picking up and orb is absurdly rewarding, whilst the noise of approaching hazards or enemies gets the palms sweating.
Controls are beautifully implemented. I'm not normally a fan of games that use the accelerometer, as they don't always give the level of precision needed. They do in Dark Nebula. Within seconds of picking up the game, you will have full control of your ship and and the responsive controls means that you will find yourself able to manoeuvre through the smallest of spaces.
At 19 levels, it is a relatively short game and not particularly tricky (I got to Level 7 on my first attempt). However, later levels become quite tough, so it offers a reasonable amount of longevity. There are also plenty of hidden areas to each level, so if you want to get the perfect score, you'll need to go back and do quite a bit more exploring. Personally, this wasn't something that interested me, and as soon as I had finished the final level, the game was consigned to "Never played" section of my phone. That's fine, though, because I was happy with the amount of game time I got.
At £1.99, Dark Nebula is a little more expensive than some other App Store titles, but you get what you pay for. Do you really object to paying the developer less than the price of a pint for a game which has been so lovingly crafted?
Dark Nebula is one of the App Store's (many) hidden gems. It's 90s style presentation, simple gameplay and relatively high price are likely to put many people off buying it. If you do take the plunge, though, it will quickly establish itself as one of the best casual games you own.
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