There are certain games that provide the gamer enough backstory and lore that they would need a large reference book to help decipher the work. Names are given that you can’t remember or even pronounce; histories of the world are found to be deeper than any modern history lessons at PhD level. At times, this gaming lark is quite a tricky business. Luckily Nubarron: The adventure of an unlucky gnome has quite a simple premise – you are a Gnome who’s lost his lucky hat and off you go on an adventure to find it. However, that doesn’t mean that the journey has less value than a Mass Effect or Dark Souls. In fact, some would argue it has more.
Nubarron is, at its essence, a hand-drawn beautiful 2D puzzle adventure platformer. The story involves a little Gnome – the reluctant hero of the hour who has lost his lucky hat, as his hat is replaced by what seems to be a sentient cloud hanging over his head instead. In his local village, he goes to see the wise old owl who tells him he needs to go out on an adventure to find some pages from a magical book called the Nubarron, to get rid of the troublesome cloud and then get his hat back. The story and the writing is like a delightful children’s fairytale with some nice characters, witty dialogue and, most surprisingly, a great premise.
Gameplay-wise this comes with some nice new gameplay ideas and a healthy mix of platforming and puzzling. First, let us talk about the platforming section and the fact that the jump button is assigned to the B button on the Xbox controller. I’ll admit, this had me in a quandary because I’m so used to being used for something else, and it took me ages to make it feel natural. Once it does though there are the usual platforming tricks and skills required, but Nubarron is not as brutal or taxing as other platforming games out there. You generally walk around looking for areas to open out, hunting down hidden pages which are dotted around.
To open up areas there is a mixture of puzzles to solve, and many of these involve finding the correct switch which will in turn operate a piece of machinery or door. You have crates to push or wheels to turn to open doorways, but much like the platforming elements the puzzle pieces of the gameplay aren’t ever difficult to work out; it’s all fairly simple stuff. The problem Nubarron has so far is that it doesn’t feel that original. And so it’s probably best that we talk about the cloud.
The mysterious cloud above the Gnome’s head is where the game really stands out from the crowd. The cloud comes with three different states throughout the game – neutral, angry, or happy. The neutral state is where the cloud sits for most of Nubarron’s playthrough, and here you can use the cloud’s lighting strike to kill enemies who are in your way. Nicely, you can then use the electrified bodies of these enemies as stepping stones to make your way onto higher platforms. The cloud can also be used to electrify switches to operate machinery and doorways. However, there is also a chance it will aim at you – when the cloud is angry it goes all rogue and, whilst you can’t control it, it will stay above your head. It is here, at intermittent times, that it strikes lightning downwards towards you in anger; you need to dodge out of the way and not be near water when this happens. But then there’s also the other end of the scale, and when the cloud is happy it never aims at the Gnome, and you can use its power without fear of dying a horrible death. Honestly, it’s a simple cloud, but it’s a work of gaming genius and I love it.
Nubarron: The adventure of an unlucky gnome looks beautiful and exceeds every expectation you have for a magical world where gnomes, angry clouds and wise-talking owls exist. It’s a digital hand-drawn delight with amazing character design, wonderful use of colour, and fascinating backdrops. The soundtrack has a great orchestral track that works brilliantly with the action on the screen. The effects are good as well – especially the electricity zapping, which sends shivers down your spine.
In all, Nubarron: The adventure of an unlucky gnome on Xbox is a great little indie platformer; one that is perfect for lockdown life. It will transport you to a magical, whimsical world full of colour, delight, and strange angry clouds. Even though it’s a short experience, that is truly reflected in the price tag; it will easily provide some entertainment for those long winter days. It’s not going to be for all though, and some will find the challenge too weak and the checkpointing too rewarding at times. But for me it’s a well-designed, lovely little game that will make you care about a gnome and his lost lucky hat.