My newest run began only a minute or two ago. Knowing the importance of gold, I’ve dedicated my bomb-placing magic wand to digging out gold veins, picking up the sand-like nectar that spills from the deposits as they’re opened up. My bomb’s embers find their home on a reserve of coal, setting it (and several nearby enemies) ablaze. The fire spreads to a pool of water, which then evaporates into steam, combining with smoke in a nook on the ceiling and separating into layers according to density. I spot a magic wand in a pool of toxic sludge. Sprinkling in some water from my flask, the poison is completely neutralized, the water propagating throughout the volume so I can safely submerge myself and claim my reward. This is Noita.
Any 20-to-30-something who was, at one time, hopelessly addicted to Flash games is probably at least subconsciously aware of the existence of The Powder Toy. Developed as an exercise in pixel-based physics, it allows players to place wax, gunpowder, wood, water, and many other materials, then combine them to predictable results. My favorite test was to see how big of a bomb I could build, layering in every explosive material I could and building a wick of wax that ran around the screen.
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Noita takes The Powder Toy and turns it into a huge, alchemically-inclined world full of secrets, magic, and death. A roguelike, Noita encourages experimentation while at the same time punishing mistakes harshly. The first twenty or so deaths are comical, and marveling at the physics of the world is enough to stay in high spirits for the early game. Digging deeper, however, yields an impossibly huge world, incredibly customizable magicks, and an increasingly nonsensical alchemy system.
The depth of Noita will likely only appeal to enthusiasts, so I’ll keep things high-level for now. Each run, you begin as a little witch with nothing more than a spark-blaster and bomb-placing wand. You’ll collect gold, randomized wands, and spells as you traverse deeper into the world on a journey for untold riches. Wands have unique stats, like spell speed and mana capacity, and can be “slotted” with spells in varying orders to achieve different effects. For instance, put a sawblade next to a fire trail spell and you have a flaming shuriken launcher, which is as cool as it sounds until it bounces off a rock and into your face.
There are also flasks, each containing anything as mundane as water to as extravagant as teleportation liquid. Combining spells, flasks, and the environment is key to success in Noita. Cracking a huge icicle with a well-placed spell can send it crashing down into a group of enemies. In a later level, enemies converge in metallic rooms that can be electrocuted from afar. There are countless ways to cataclysmically alter the environment, and they all have the potential to backfire extravagantly.
Floors provide a nice mix of exploration and combat, with plenty of horizontal traversal potential before reaching the portal to the next zone at the bottom. Cave generation can be a bit frustrating at times, with small gaps only a pixel too narrow to squeeze through unaided, but rewards are plenty. Of course, you could always cast spells that rain acid and dissolve the landscape to make traversal easier (?), but these are usually limited. There are plenty of other spells to help break through tough areas like chainsaws, black holes, and bombs. Balancing raw firepower with exploration potential is yet another way Noita adds depth to its formula.
Some spells and perks pave way for an easy victory, but these are often just as dangerous for you as they are foes. Some floors become absolutely inundated with snipers, giant bugs, and jetpacking goons, making the odds feel unfair regardless of how beefed up your spellbook is. Victory in Noita requires the same patience, planning, and diligence as the recently released Spelunky 2, with an added dose of chaos and unpredictability. Mastering its systems takes time, but a rewarding world full of secrets and plenty of colorful explosions make this adventure worth the struggle.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided by Nolla Games.
A reinvention of a childhood favorite of mine, The Powder Toy, Noita amazes with its pixel-perfect simulation of physics, chemistry, and magic.