Noitu Love: Devolution Only Takes an Hour to Beat, but I Still Haven't Put It Down
Noitu Love: Devolution has been available as a PC game since 2008, but it was finally ported to the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U systems last month.
Personally, I feel like these systems deliver the definitive version of the game.
Noitu Love: Devolution is the sequel to Noitu Love, in which the titular hero fought to defeat an evil scientist called Darnacus and his army of robots, the Grinning Darns.
Devolution takes place 100 years later in the 2288. A mysterious force has brought back the Darns, and with Noitu Love long-dead, a new hero called Xoda Rap must rise to the occasion to stop them.
Before players jump in as Xoda, the game encourages them to go through a tutorial, walking them through all of the little brawler's moves.
Character movement is really what distinguishes Devolution from other games. Regular motion is controlled with the circle pad or directional pad like most games, but Xoda's attacks, dashes, charges and throws are controlled with swipes and taps of the stylus, right on the screen where the action is taking place.
This works particularly well on handheld systems, like the 3DS or Wii U's gamepad. It feels so intuitive it's hard to imagine the game wasn't originally designed for this implementation.
By the time you've finished the tutorial and it's time to get into the actual story, all of Xoda's movements feel super natural. This is good because the gameplay is fast-paced and completely frenetic, in the best way. Xoda is a hands-on fighter, and when you land her punches, kicks and throws, it's incredibly satisfying—especially thanks to the help of some great sound effects and imagery.
All of this action takes place within a beautifully crafted 16-bit-style world (if you're not familiar, think games from the early '90s). The character sprites are cute, quirky and unique, and the locations (and explosions) are terrific. Plus, the music is the perfect complement to the high-energy gameplay.
The levels are also varied and thoughtful, particularly when a mysterious force in the game bends time and space, shaping the world around you.
There are multiple boss battles within every level, and the game is always throwing new and innovative concepts at the player.
I particularly loved a level that partly takes place in an elevator, with the speed of the rising and descending elevator affecting the character's weight within the room. In another level, certain switches manipulate gravity, causing the character to fall either to the floor or the ceiling, à la Geometry Dash.
After every level, the player is also graded on their performance using stats including the time in which they completed the level, how many kills they had, the biggest combo and the number of hits taken.
Getting an A is not easy (and I've yet to do so). On my first play-through, I got a C on the first level and Ds on all of the rest. Only on subsequent play-throughs was I able to achieve B grades, and they are still few and far between.
And once you've beaten the game once with the silent protagonist Xoda, the fun definitely isn't over. Completing it once unlocks the ability to stay as Xoda's one-time enemy, the robotic Rilo Doppelori.
Rilo's moveset is quite different from Xoda's, as she mostly utilizes a massive gun to take out enemies, attacking them physically only when they're up close and personal.
The change is stark, but because every character has their own comprehensive tutorial stage built into the game, the transition back into the action is pretty smooth.
The last unlockable character in the game is Mr. Almond, who, on his own is a little bit useless. He can't fight much by himself, and the player has to physically grab him with the stylus to make it over large chasms or get up onto high platforms.
He is, however, good at dodging attacks, and he's equipped with a handy gun—although he's never seen on screen actually shooting it. Dragging him around and frantically tapping the screen is somehow just as fun as Xoda and Rilo's segments of the game.
By no means is Devolution a long game. You can comfortably play through to the end with one character in a single sitting. That being said, there is a ton of replay value here, from familiarizing yourself with each of the characters to trying to score an A ranking on every level.
There are also harder modes in which you take more damage when you're hit, enemies are tougher and the bosses have even more tricks up their robotic sleeves. While the "normal" difficulty level gives you unlimited continues, in "hard" mode, you're limited to just five, so you really need to hone your skills to make it through. There's also a hidden boss you can fight on the higher difficulty levels—but only if you can find him.
Overall, Noitu Love: Devolution is a gem of a game. It has some awesome female protagonists and baddies, and it's full of all of the joys of a classic arcade beat 'em up (and you don't even need to constantly feed quarters into the machine). It's the kind of game you'll play again and again to top your high score, and at just $9.99 in the Nintendo eShop, it definitely deserves a place in your digital downloads.
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