Noita didn’t make a good first impression. I didn’t know where to go, what to do and within five minutes, I was dead. Maybe it was two minutes, I don’t know. I’ve lost count. I’ve died so many times.
I wanted guidance. I wanted the pixely wizard game I’d seen in trailers, to run around and blow everything up with spells. I didn’t want to be edging around in a dark cave, scared of everything. I didn’t want to be eaten, shot, blown up, melted, killed. It was impenetrable, unfriendly, unfair, and I wanted to give up.
But I didn’t. I looked again at what I had. I willed Noita to open and gradually, it did. It went a bit like this.
Did well that turn! Found a fancy new wand, found a new spell. Felt good about my chances until a polymorph surface changed me into a bizarre trooper that shot glowing blobs. Thought it might be health until I went to pick it up. It was a mine. Dead. Time: four minutes.
New Game. Very satisfying burning things. Shooting the lanterns onto wood or coal or oil, and watching the fire roar and spread: gorgeous. Found a very fancy new wand. Picked it up and the whole room exploded in a cloud of poison. I melted. Time: three minutes.
New Game. Mist outside the cave this time. Like the anticipation of a newly generated level. Enjoying fun blowing things up. Blew a hole in a huge reservoir of water and watched it cascade down into the cave, explosions sounding in the darkness. Never gets old. Found a freeze wand. Then shot an enemy near a bomb. Time: three minutes.
New Game. Close scrape getting into the Holy Mountain. Nearly died. But worked out how to edit a wand! Didn’t know they worked like that. Picked a spider-leg perk! Now have legs coming out of me that fight for me. Found a new area too but wow it’s tough. New enemies. Time: 22 minutes. A good one.
New Game. Dead. Not worth talking about. Time: nine minutes.
New Game. Found a sweet fireball wand and visited the Holy Mountain twice! Got fire immunity perk! Found more new areas and enemies. Ouch ouch ouch. Time: 20 minutes.
New Game. Visited four areas this time! Got an Extra Life perk! Got Vampirism so I can heal by drinking pools of blood! Got a sweet spinning circular saw-blade wand! Damnit, dead. Time: 11 minutes.
I’ll spare you the rest, it gets a bit sweary anyway. Suffice to say: I die a lot. But I get better and I do better, that’s the important point. Every run, I figure something else out. I work out how an enemy fights, for example, or I get a bit further in figuring out wands. They’re key. They’re indecipherable to begin with, and you’ll find new ones and Noita will ask if you want to swap them, and you’ll be like, um, I don’t know?
But those gobbledygook statistics will start to make sense, I promise, and you’ll come to know what the spells loaded in the wands do. And when you do, and when you edit the wands your way, swapping the spells in them, changing the buffs, that’s when it begins to click. That’s when you start crafting wands a bit like how you would guns in other games. Think of them that way. I’ve had some fantastic machine-gun wands and a few close-range shotgun types. And I’ve had some very bizarre wands with spells I don’t quite understand yet too. The list of spells I can load them with seems endless.
None of this is to say I’ve enjoyed a smooth upward curve of success ever since the beginning, because I haven’t. Noita kills me as unceremoniously now as it did before, and in between every exciting 20-minute run there’s a few three-minute runs where I get nowhere. It’s unpredictable. Noita doesn’t adhere to any kind of pattern, not really. All you can be certain of is it gets harder the deeper you go. Otherwise, its procedurally thrown-together tinder box of ingredients – of fire and poison and explosives – can go up in any number of ways at any moment, either through your doing or an enemy’s, or just by happenstance. It’s wonderful to watch and perilous to play.
But persevering against the odds is the point of Noita. Those many deaths become battle scars on a hard road to victory. I haven’t played a game like it. I mean, I’ve played Roguelikes, quite a few this year actually, but none so apparently tightfisted. Noita doesn’t give anything away easily. There’s no XP system for unlocking new toys next time around, so each time, you start completely afresh. There’s not even any indication what you’re trying to do in the game. I still don’t know. I figure I’m trying to get as far down as possible because I’m scored on that when I die, but I don’t know. Nor do I know what a ‘win’ might be. Do I have to kill something? Do I have to reach something? I don’t know, but there’s a score for it when I die.
Tightfisted might not be the right word, now I think about it, because by not giving anything away, Noita leaves everything – all possibilities – on the table. By not telling me what to do, it tells me I can do anything. By not telling me where to go, it tells me I can go anywhere. There might be a few more areas to see, there might be many. I don’t know. I have no idea what Noita’s limits might be. And I find that tremendously exciting.
I don’t have to force myself to play anymore, I’m pulled back. I’m comfortable in its loop of trial and error. I have theories I want to try, combos I’m hoping to pull off. And I have an inkling now of what awaits. I glimpsed something after I picked the Teleportitis perk and went on the ride of my life. It made me teleport somewhere at random every time I took damage, and considering how often I took damage – not only from enemies but gradual burning and poisoning – I teleported an awful lot. I was completely out of control. It was all I could do to hang on, but I did, and in a blur of jumps I glimpsed places I’ve never been. It was utter chaos. It was Noita.
You should play it. If you dare.