Nimble Quest (iOS) review

nimblequestNimble Quest is a new iOS game from Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes developer NimbleBit. It’s available now from the App Store and, like the developer’s other titles, is a free-to-play game with additional in-app purchases.

Nimble Quest is a significant departure from NimbleBit’s two previous hits in several ways. First of all, while the aesthetic is still heavily based around retro-style pixel art, the higher resolution of the new game makes it look more like a title from the 16-bit era than the chunky 8-bit style of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Alongside the change in aesthetic comes a change in play style, too — rather than being a relatively conventional “tap and wait” business sim both Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, Nimble Quest is an arcade action game. Specifically, it’s a cross between mobile phone classic Snake and the venerable arcade RPG/shooter title Gauntlet — and it’s excellent.

Basic gameplay in Nimble Quest is very simple. Play begins by selecting one of several different hero characters, each of whom have their own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. When the game proper starts, the hero character begins walking around an enclosed arena and is unable to stop. Swiping in a particular direction on the screen causes the character to start moving in that direction — though like Snake, it’s impossible to simply reverse your direction, and only horizontal and vertical movement is allowed.

Enemies spawn into the arena at regular intervals — some as individuals, others in snake-like formations — and the player must defeat them to progress. Each enemy defeated adds to a bar at the top of the screen, and when this bar fills the level fills with gems to collect for a few seconds before proceeding to the next arena, which has a different graphical theme and enemies. As players progress through the levels, they unlock new heroes that they can use as their “leader” in subsequent games.

The “Snake” twist comes in the fact that the player is able to add new heroes to their lineup while playing. Certain enemies hold unlocked heroes captive, and rescuing them causes them to start following the leader character around, adding their special abilities to the player’s arsenal. The further the player has progressed in a single playthrough, the more heroes they can have in their team at once — but conversely, the longer the line of heroes the player has following them, the more likely they are to run into themselves and instantly fail. Heroes who are following the player character can be killed by monsters without the game ending, but if the leader dies the game is immediately over.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 8.35.11 AMThe player progresses through the game in a number of different ways. As noted previously, reaching new levels unlocks new heroes who can then be selected when starting a new game or encountered mid-game. Using the same hero repeatedly earns them experience points towards three “star” levels, each of which increases their abilities in various ways. The effects of various powerups encountered throughout the game can also be enhanced by expending the gems picked up during play.

The game monetizes in several ways, primarily through the game’s hard currency, known as “Tokens.” These may be used to continue after death and to make use of boosters before each game. Tokens may either be acquired via in-app purchase or by watching video ads, and very occasionally through normal gameplay. The game also allows players to purchase soft currency gems or unlocks for specific heroes without reaching the prerequisite level that normally provides access to them. Soft currency gems also allow players to upgrade their heroes without “grinding.” A final in-app purchase activates “red gems” in the game, which are worth 10 times the amount of normal gem pickups and consequently allow players to earn soft currency significantly faster. This being a NimbleBit game, however, the game is completely satisfying without spending a cent, and at no point does it feel like artificial difficulty walls are being put up to force the player into making an in-app purchase.