Nocturnal review for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox

Platform: PC
Also on: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Sunnyside Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Now that we have a Christmas-themed metrvoidvania on the way, you could be forgiven for thinking the genre’s well has run completely dry – that, thirty-plus years after Metroid and Castlevania effectively created the genre, there’s really nowhere else for those games to go.

And then a game like Nocturnal comes along and shows there’s life in it yet.

Obviously that’s overstating things in all kinds of ways. For one thing, it makes it sound like Nocturnal is a genre-defining (or genre-redefining, I suppose) masterpiece, which isn’t the case at all – it’s good, to be sure, and it has a good idea that I’ll get to in a second, but it’s not about to make anyone drastically rethink their feelings towards metroidvanias as a whole.

On top of that, its innovation – if you want to call it that – isn’t exactly novel: fire means life, and if you’re in the dark for too long, you die. We’re hardly talking something that no one has ever thought of before.

But the way it works in Nocturnal still feels fresh and new. You need fire to stay alive, and you carry it from one torch to the next in your sword. With that fiery sword, you ignite your environments, set enemies on fire, and push back the ever-encroaching dark. And once your flame runs out, you die.

This adds a constant speed element that you may not normally associate with the genre. While speed-running can be added to any game (and you’re welcome to just sit next to a flame for as long as you want, I guess), in Noctural it’s almost an integral element. Even if the game never explicitly hurries you along, you’ll still feel the darkness closing in and compelling you onwards. As mechanics go, it’s a pretty neat one.

It also helps that so much of the game feels dark and dreamlike. Whether you’re rushing through a dungeon or hurrying through the gloomy outdoors, the whole game feels like it takes place in an ethereal haze. On the one hand it looks kind of dimly lit, but on the other, it’s a neat look.

And that’s the best way to describe Nocturnal: it’s a neat game. It won’t take too much of your time, and it’s similar enough to other metroidvanias that you’ll probably only want to play it if you’re already a fan of the genre, but if you like the genre and want something that has enough spark of inspiration to carry it through a few hours, it’s definitely worth investigating.

Dear Villagers provided us with a Nocturnal PC code for review purposes.

Grade: B+