Nil Rider

Nil Rider is a mixture of a racing and a puzzle game that is set in an Escheresque world where space is functioning by laws unfamiliar to most of us.

The developer, Zeno Rogue, made several games set in such strange worlds. Their dimension-hopping roguelike HyperRogue is not only one of my favorite games of all time, but also gained some attention from some big „Indie“-game media sites back in the days. If you haven’t played it already, I heavily recommend to do so – it is a unique, fun, and mind bending experience.

Nil Rider is less gamey, more „in your face“ and much less amenable than HyperRogue. You control a small vehicle that is unpowered by itself – your only way to move is to utilize the force of gravity. Luckily, space is warped in a way that allows you to reach any place in a given room by driving downhill, allowing you to reach any place you want. Your objective is to collect objects in a given amount of time (or, in some cases, without breaking some level specific rules). The time limits are strict, and you’ll need quite some optimization even for the easiest objectives available.

A planning mode where you can set up a route by setting waypoints is available for those who prefer the pure „puzzle-experience“. But even in planning mode, I found most targets and tracks I tackled very tricky (I didn’t solve most of them at all by the time of writing this). The game features 10 levels, most of them with 2 different objectives – completing them will probably require some time and tinkering, which is a good thing: The gameplay is fun, and optimizing your way through these intangible levels is quite addicting.

Even though it might seem complicated at the first glance, the GUI is pretty straightforward and using it is essential to play the game (Compass, slope at the current orientation, speed, target objects collected/available, Objectives available/done/not possible anymore). You won’t exit automatically after winning or when the objectives aren’t possible anymore; use „V“ to enter the menu and „R“ in the menu to restart; after activating the „Replay“ mode („R“ ingame) you’ll need to Pause and Unpause (both done by pressing „P“ ingame) to go on.

Regarding the visual and acoustic design, the game is done simple but coherent; the graphics go well with the engine and the absurd world, and the music is fitting. I find it breathtaking how the developer utilizes their engine to create worlds that eludes the common logic and still manages to establish working games within them. While the gameplay is minimal it is not only fun but also works well as a bridge to enter the strange dimensions created by the game that feels like the opposite of an optical illusion: There is no trick about the essence of the emulated world, but it seems to be absurd since it is transported into our world and made accessible for our senses that aren’t fit to grasp what they receive. Even after quitting, my sight and perception felt like being bent for a while.

Nil Rider is only available for Windows but run well using Wine under OpenSuse Thumbleweed. The source code is available, the game is GPL-licensed Free Software.

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