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Nocturnal is a Fantastic, Fire-Filled Take on Castlevania!

Nocturnal's straightforward story is not long, but if you go in looking for a compact Castlevania-ish adventure you'll have a great time.

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Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

My interest in Nocturnal was sparked when I saw screenshots showing a torch cutting through an oppressive darkness. I've been hungering for another Metroidvania and hoped that this could satiate that craving. I've had an absolute blast burning through the surprisingly short story, but I'm not super hot on how linear the experience is.

Familiar Gameplay

Nocturnal has you venturing through a dreary, dystopian wasteland.

Nocturnal presents itself to the player like any post-Dark Souls 2D Metroidvania. You start off as a mysterious warrior returning to a mysterious land with a seemingly mundane sword. Things get more mysterious when you find a torch, however, and learn that your sword can be lit on fire for a short period of time. With this burning blade, you can light further torches, burn objects in the environment, and punish foes with powerful strikes.

The skill tree in nocturnal is very, very small.

Each enemy you eliminate and many objects you obliterate reward you with a currency you can spend to upgrade your abilities. Extra health, longer-lasting fire, and new combat abilities are all on the fairly short skill tree.

Unlike a Souls game, you don't lose anything upon death. Yes, there are checkpoints that you'll unlock (which are for some reason big basins in this game all about fire and not, you know, bonfires), but you just respawn at them after death with whatever currency you had when you first hit the checkpoint. Otherwise, the basic structure in this game is extremely familiar… just a lot darker.

Darkness Darkness Everywhere

Nocturnal's lighting and darkness effects look amazing.

Light is a central mechanic in Nocturnal. Lighting your sword and torches along the path helps you see things clearly, but is also essential for combat and exploration. Your basic attacks all get boosted when your sword is ignited, and there are some enemies lurking in the darkness that can only be hurt by fire. On top of that, throughout the world there is a deep darkness that swirls like a miasma. Without a flaming blade or a lit torch, you'll die from spending more than a few seconds in the darkness, as if you've drowned.

With that in mind, a lot of the gameplay loop in Nocturnal involves lighting your sword, dashing into a dark room, and then frantically trying to light a torch while you dodge enemy attacks. You may find yourself carrying a lit sword over collapsing pillars as the miasma closes in. Sometimes a torch on a chain will travel over your head, and you are challenged with staying in its light. Often times you'll have to seek out a fire to run flame-powered elevators.

There's a good variety in the mechanics at play, but the combat gauntlets, puzzles, platforming challenges, and exploration are all based solely around fire. I would have loved to see some aesthetic variation, like maybe puzzles involving different colors of flame, but this game sticks to its visual identity with surprising stubbornness.

Linearity and Lore

A few npcs are still alive in nocturnal, and they've all got sad stories to share.

Like so many dark and broody games before it, the story of Nocturnal is pretty opaque. You are some sort of warrior who is returning home in a uniform that the few surviving citizens are skeptical of. Throughout the adventure there are eleven statues you can find, each unlocking a bit of lore. Some of them are right in the critical path, while others are tucked away into optional rooms.

The animated opening of nocturnal is spectacular.

Unfortunately, those statutes are about the extent of exploration incentives in Nocturnal. I went into this game expecting a Metroidvania where I'd be checking corners to look for upgrades and secret paths, but instead, it is extremely linear. There are a few places where you'll explore a section of interconnected rooms to unlock doors or activate elevators (all by lighting torches, of course), but there's no overworld map, no backtracking past what sure feels like the end of levels, and very little extra stuff to find.

I was also surprised to find that there's no sort of New Game Plus, so in order to collect all the lore or max out the skill tree you have to find everything and smash every random jar all in one run through the game.

Final Thoughts

Nocturnal invites you to burn everything, including bodies.

While Nocturnal ended up being about a 3-5 hour long linear action platformer instead of the 8-10 hour long Metroidvania I initially expected, I still had a blast with it. The basic movement feels really good, the combat is solid, and the game looks absolutely phenomenal with all of its lighting and smoke-like effects. I did run into a few areas where my Switch Lite really chugged on the framerate, but it wasn't consistent enough to ruin the experience.

My only real complaint about Nocturnal is that I kept expecting it to give me a map and open up to a bigger, open world. If you go in expecting a short, satisfying action game, though, I think you'll have a great time.

Geek to Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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