Review: Noitu Love 2 (**** stars)

I stole this from Substance TV. Then again, I wrote it!

Noitu Love 2

Wow, am I surprise (intentionally bad grammar!).

I like surprises, wherever you find them. They tend to blindside you or take you off-guard, but who doesn’t love them (except for jump scares, I mean)? The Bible itself is full of the surprises, that God died and rose again…for you and everybody else. That’s a pretty good one, don’t you think? And I think it also has its own applications in human experience, that simple joy of finding something completely new both unwillingly and unknowingly.

In the same way, ever stumble upon an old game through complete happenstance, find it amazing, and then find out that nobody told you about it? Then, you find out that the game was released nearly five years ago, and yet the “indie” game community completely ignored such an amazing piece of work because it’s “derivative”? Or that it doesn’t try to moralize or make a social/political commentary of any kind?

That was the case for me and Noitu Love 2.

Made by Konjak, otherwise known as the one-man development team of Joakim Sandberg, the game attempts a loving tribute to Treasure and their 16-bit platformers. I think everyone and their mother (and all the various articles I’ve read about it) see a Gunstar Heroes influence throughout, and they’re not totally wrong; Sandberg’s work forces players to cope with a similar, if not more intense, level of chaos. Challenging bosses appear throughout like candy, each with a unique name, look, and strategy. The amazing sprite-work throws explosions everywhere on the screen in an relentless, beautiful assault on the eyes, a tribute to all the amazing two dimensional art of the 1990s. Heck, the game even encourages you to KEEP MOVING throughout.

So why haven’t you heard of this exquisite and imaginative experience? The game only found release on Steam sixth months ago – and for $4.99 no less! There’s nearly no excuse not to play this game unless you happen to own Mac computers exclusively.

Of course, that’s not the only reason a gamer would find themselves engrossed in the world of Noitu Love 2. The mechanics could not work on anything but a keyboard and mouse scheme, remarkably. You’ve got the usually running, jumping, and ducking (using a WASD setup), as well as wall-jumping. The game uses a targeting cursor, controlled by the mouse, to aim attacks. Clicking on an enemy will make Xoda Rap (your playable character) teleport to that enemy; repeatedly click on said enemy to pummel it into oblivion. Seriously, the combination of the sound effects, aesthetics, and the constant pounding of the left mouse button make this movement incredibly satisfying.

This click-aiming mechanics accounts for the extremely fast pace of the game. It doesn’t matter where an enemy attacks on screen because you can attack them from any distance; hence, this gives the developer free reign for an all-out assault on the player, with enemies coming from nearly every direction. Furthermore, they’ll never stop spawning unless you KEEP MOVING, meaning you want to be fast, efficient, and smart.

Noitu Love 2

Simply using the mouse attack won’t do. However, just clicking all the time means you leave yourself vulnerable to projectiles, missiles, other enemies, and who knows what other obstacles. Other offensive options fill the void by providing slight moments of safety and invulnerability frames. Special attacks, for example, make you invincible while also attacking enemies at the same time. Holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse left, right (both the same attack) or up will cause these attacks to come out, as well as double tapping the corresponding movement keys. These become essential for both crowd control (and I mean that in the best sense of the term) and quick forward/upward movement. The Right mouse button also doubles its function by creating a temporary projectile shield where it is on screen. This becomes necessary for preventing certain attacks from hitting the player, and can even cause enemies to kill themselves.

Like in Gunstar Heroes, it’s possible to grapple enemies by holding the left mouse button and leaving the cursor on top of an enemy. You can then, with a flick of the mouse, throw them wherever your please. That’s certainly not possible in Treasure’s classic, opening up a host of possibilities with this strongest attack. Lastly, Xoda has a gun attack; simple hold the left mouse button without targeting anything, and she’ll charge a giant blast which, like most such moves, can be aimed with the mouse cursor. Even if this move isn’t that fast, it is worthwhile during fights when a target stays at range or remains too dangerous to approach head-on.

Now, think about having this whole arsenal at once, with little to no downtime on any of these attacks, and you’ll begin to see the genius of it all. The game wastes none of these options; you will have to use them all, and use them well. At any one time, you could attack an enemy on the ground, grab another one, throw him at two enemies in the air, dash over to the next one, use an upwards special attack, dash from side to side to take out multiple foes, then slap a shield in front of a cannon to make it destroy itself. That’s about a second worth of play condensed into a sentence. If that sounds intense, it is, and you’ll find yourself rapidly clicking from game start to game end.

In fact, the amount of visual information presented to the player can make the game incredibly disorienting at first. Those explosions can mask what’s happening on the screen at any given time, and if you’re not paying attention you could find yourself being hit over and over again. This isn’t so much a problem at the default difficulty, which seems an introductory segment rather than a full-fledged mode. Enemies barely take out any health, and health powerups drop frequently. However, Hard and Hardest up the ante. From what I can tell, they introduce loads more enemies and even more continual respawns. You’ll take far more damage as well, making the player constantly aware of how many hits you take. Bosses attack with entirely new patterns and new abilities, and sometimes speed up exponentially.

Like any good arcade game, the harder difficulties also force a continue system (unlike Normal mode’s seemingly infinite retries). There’s a save system, sure, but it leaves you with whatever continues you obtained before the save; skill remains the only factor in completing the game. In that sense, beating the game on Normal is a fun frivolity. Trying to complete Hard and Hardest requires a real commitment. Not that unlocking new characters which change the levels significantly isn’t an incentive enough.

Noitu Love 2

However, I don’t mean to make the game sound like all sunshine and rainbows. There’s some definite flaws that crimp replay value. Firstly, I have no idea how the scoring system works in the game, nor is there an online leaderboard. I imagine that Sandberg doesn’t have the clout nor the funds to set up a server for such a thing, so I forgive the latter. What I do not forgive is the scoring system. To demonstrate from a GameFAQs forum post:

I’ve been keeping track of my scores and results. The below is deeply confusing to me and makes no sense whatever.

Level 2, hardest, run one
time: 292
kills: 72
combo: 49
hits: 7
score: A (makes sense so far)
Level 2, hardest, run two
time: 274 (better)
kills: 63 (worse)
combo: 37 (worse)
hits: 10 (worse, and frankly pathetic)
score: S

Uh????

Heck, I can’t even decipher the difference. Not that it much matters, given that comparing and contrasting scores comes from finding other players and posting it into a chat box somewhere or taking a screenshot. The relatively longevity of the game, then, becomes suspect the moment you’ve beaten Hardest (which, admittedly, I haven’t unlocked). In a way, it’s a one-and-done type of game – then again, that was exactly the kind of game Sandberg wanted to create. I can’t fault it for copying a useless mechanic because of nostalgia, I suppose.

I can fault it for the occasional lapses of control. Simply put, a keyboard may work well, but it can never duplicate the accuracy of a controller’s instantaneous response. Most console developers can craft a game to a system’s unique controller and tailor that to the specifics of said system. A PC game developer cannot; they can only assume the absolute basic commonalities between personal computer setups. Perhaps that is why I find many PC games loose in their controls.

The same principle applies when playing Mega Man game with a keyboard – the sense of accuracy and timing go completely off center as the player tries to adjust to the new control scheme. Not everyone has the same keyboard, either; some provide a quicker response time. A mouse’s sensitivity options varies from player to player. I, for example, am using a World of WarCraft Legendary Edition Mouse. Its sensitivity and accuracy, adjustable to a fault, can make control difficult in one situation, simple in another. These slight variations (in addition to making scoring nearly impossible to measure with any accuracy – yet another way to point out the confusing scoring system), also means the experience differ slightly from person to person. A one-man development team can’t account for the variation between multiple PC setups, surely!

For all my rambling, these appear as minor faults in the long run. Anyone with a penchant for sprite art, 2D action, and explosions will love Noitu Love 2’s evolution of a genre. It may not play the same, but it surely gives me the same feeling of Christmas morning when I first played Gunstar Heroes: amazement, difficulty, and satisfaction. That’s something you won’t find in today’s modern gaming scene very often.

Unfortunately, I kinda spoiled the surprise. But give it a go; there’s no reason at such a low price point that I can’t recommend it, really!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.