Nimbatus is the latest in a long line of projects to put the tools of creation into the hands of users. In this case, those tools range from weapons and thrusters to sensors and hinges, with the end goal being to build drones. Players then take those drones on fairly straightforward missions, with success being rewarded with an expansion of the procedurally-generated universe.
The game has been tearing up Kickstarter since the launch of the crowdfunding campaign last month, earning almost three times its initial funding goal with three days remaining at the time of publication. Understanding this overwhelmingly strong reception is simple. The developers at Stray Fawn Studio have made all the right moves in providing a reasonable funding goal, a plethora of work examples, and a playable demo. However, supplanting all of these positives, the game itself speaks volumes in the strength of its ideas and execution.
As with many of the most rewarding gaming experiences, Nimbatus is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Building a player-controlled drone capable of completing objectives is as simple as joining together a series of thrusters, fuel tanks, batteries, and weapons, which can be done in under a minute. The challenge within the game stems from the ever-increasing swarms of enemies, defence against which requires more complex designs that make use of autonomy. To that end, the developers have included a series of sensors that can detect foes and terrain and force the drone to respond accordingly. While the purpose of most parts is fairly straightforward, getting them to work correctly can be a distressingly fiddly process, as adjusting variables can produce unexpected results.
Games such as LittleBigPlanet, Minecraft, Planet Coaster, and Kerbal Space Program have enabled users to flex their creativity and build remarkable things. Nimbatus is designed with a similar mindset, and some crafty gamers have appropriated the existing parts to make speedometers, rovers, and other constructions that the developers have taken as inspiration to guide updates for the alpha build. Community feedback has also guided some of the crowdfunding campaign’s stretch goals, including more parts for land exploration and environmental events. Those additional financial targets promise significant expansions upon the fairly barebones structure of the game found within the demo.
As aforementioned, most missions involve either circumnavigating or drilling through a planet to locate and destroy an objective. While initially invigorating, the repetitive mission structure becomes rote after only a handful of quests. Thankfully, the developers have included challenges in the form of sumo arenas, where autonomous drones go head-to-head in an effort to push each other out of a circle. The technical dexterity and design iteration required for success in these arenas set them apart from the remainder of the game. Building fully autonomous drones is more difficult than player-controlled ones, but also more rewarding. Therefore, Stray Fawn’s decision to expand on this area with drone races and weaponised combat in the final release should prove to be rousing.
The brilliant design philosophy of Nimbatus is supported by a colourful 2D visual style that reduces the complexity of engineering and mechanics to an interface that is easy to understand. Supporting the engaging graphics is a suitably synth-based soundtrack honed to the perfect pitch to facilitate concentration rather than being distracting. The presentation adds up to a project that is stunningly videogenic, as even the most basic creations can put on a spectacular lightshow.
Nimbatus remains in a very early stage of development, and Stray Fawn anticipates not being able to release a final product until 2019, although alpha and Steam Early Access launches are scheduled to take place next year. The barebones mission structure and sometimes obscurely defined autonomy-based drone parts make the wait bearable, but those flaws are minor in the face of the whole game. Nimbatus is simple and engaging enough to be the next Minecraft and is sure to sit comfortably alongside Media Molecule’s Dreams as a new standard bearer for the play, create, share model.