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Narbacular Drop

Narbacular Drop features a helpless princess. That itself should be enough to clue you in on what happens next. Yep, that’s right; she’s kidnapped. And by a foul demon beast for that matter. The reason why the princess is so helpless is because she is forever cursed to walk the earth. In other words, she can’t jump. Hence her name, “No-Knees”. (She does have knees, though.)

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Anyway, No-Knees is imprisoned within her captor’s mountain lair. Luckily for her, the mountain is a sentient being (somehow) and hates the demon beast’s guts. That’s why it offers to help our princess escape from . . . it. The mountain gives her the power of portalisation: the ability to conjure up two dimensionally-linked portals on any rocky surface in which if she enters one of them, she’ll instantly pop out of the other. Neato!

Her first order of business is to get out of a shoddily built prison cell. That’s easy enough. Simply shoot a portal somewhere outside and another one at the wall next to the princess. Go through the latter and voila . . . she’s now a free lady! Well, not quite. There are still a handful of ‘levels’ yet to go. But this is a short game and should portal baking- er . . . portal making be a natural ability for you, you’ll be done in the kitchen within a half-hour, easily.

But, oh my – what a splendid half hour it is!

The concept is an incredibly fresh one; innovative too. Most will recognize the similarities to 2007’s Portal released by Valve of Half-Life fame. No, Narbacular Drop isn’t some rip-off. In fact, the exact opposite holds more truth. If the release date of 2005 isn’t tell-tale enough, let it be known that this game was coded by a couple of budding professional developers who, no sooner after releasing this unique piece of software, were quickly snapped up by Valve to work on their baby, Portal, among other things. So now you know which came first: the drop before the cake.

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But I digress. Princess No-Knees needs your help, now! Portalisation opens up several solutions to the tricky problems present in these dank caverns. Since there are only so few levels (excluding fan-made custom designs) I won’t spoil too much. But let me explain how the concept shines with a single bright example.

Rolling boulders. If they hit you, you’re dead. Restart from the beginning. It can be rather harsh in this respect. But live and learn. There’s a tight corridor that you have to negotiate, but just how the heck will you get through when boulders keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’? Portals – that’s how. As a boulder rolls away from you to the other end of the corridor, shoot out a portal as far as possible. Now create one close by and as the boulder passes the first one you made (you can even look through your second one to see it roll past – WOAH!), jump in and you’ll have bypassed your first obstacle without breaking a sweat. Don’t forget about the second one, though. Remember, if you die any time during a ‘level’, you have to restart right from the beginning.

Narbacular Drop isn’t too hard of a game, especially for Portal experts. There is one particularly tricky (cheap) section, though, involving heaps of rolling boulders falling off from multiple floor levels. You need to get to the top. The answer? Portals. But it sure sucks to enter a portal when the coast appears clear only to find that it wasn’t when you exit to suddenly find a big one about to drop on your head. And that’s if you manage to see it amidst all the clipping and camera confusion (sometimes unsure of whether to place your perspective relative to the first portal or the second). You can choose your angle, though, from first-person (a la Portal) zooming out all the way to a distant third. The latter is best for scoping out the situation and the former better suited to carrying out your plan relatively glitch-free.

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Unless you have a really suped-up computer (well by 2007 standards anyway), Narbacular Drop will choke up your machine somewhat. The graphics are composed of dark shades of brown and red for the samey cave walls with a bit of metal (which you can’t make portals with) and lava (instant death) thrown in for extra brownie points. The single mysterious and jazzy music track doesn’t seem like a RAM killer either. So why the jerky gameplay on a lesser machine? Well again, the answer is this – portals.

I’ve hinted at this already; what you see through one portal is what you see at the other end. This effect in itself looks pretty cool, but when you compute that what you’ve got is essentially a super big-ass room within another super big-ass room, you begin to understand why a weak computer struggles so. You’ll also begin to understand that appearances can be deceiving and that the rabbit- (cross that out), portal hole goes much deeper than you think.

Careless portaling may send you careening into a lava pit. There’s not much leeway for experimentation given the whole restart-from-the-very-start system in place. But they had to do something to pad it out, right? I shouldn’t be complaining about length, though. This was a FREE piece of software after all! Nuclear Monkey Software – you guys rock! If, however, you want more, look no further than the infinitely more polished Portal (which could be considered to be its spiritual successor), and I hear there’s 2D Flash game based on the same award-winning concept out there too. I’m sure there’s more to come as well.

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Innovation. That’s what Narbacular Drop is all about. Controls are a tad too loose for comfort, some areas are home to some pretty cheap deaths, and the game is over before you can pick up your awe-struck jaws that have fallen to the ground. Yeah, the concept is a winner. The game . . . not so much, but it’s still a fun diversion and in case I haven’t driven this point to the ground enough, it’s FREE!!!

The developers clearly had a good time making Narbacular Drop what it is. They even put in a cute little set of comical instructions to teach you the ins and outs within seconds. The protagonist is a purple-haired princess who has knees, but is called No-Knees, and you never actually get her out of the mountain because there really isn’t a point given that she’d just be recaptured again. The point is: portals are interesting, portals are fun, portals make the world go ’round – and if you happen to step into one, who knows where you’ll be found.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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