Noitu Love: Devolution, a 2D, sprite-based beat ’em up launching today for the 3DS and Wii U, is a game out of time and place. Not only because it’s a throwback to the 16-bit brawlers and shooters of old, but also because of the way it approaches basic game design like a Nintendo DS launch game from 2004. Regardless of how you feel about the game’s big gimmick—more on that in a minute!— there’s no denying it stands proudly alongside the games that inspired it. The fact that it’s one of very few games in its genre on the 3DS is a bit of a head scratcher, but hey: all the more reason to give it a shot.
Originally conceived as a PC game and released on Windows in 2008 (a planned WiiWare release was scuttled after insurmountable publishing hurdles), Noitu Love: Devolution puts players in control of Xoda Rap, an agile ass-kicker whose singular goal is to wipe out as many enemy robots as possible. In keeping with its cartoony aesthetic, the story is a whole bunch of nonsense, but I think purposely so; it provides just enough setup to justify the game’s change in scenery from level to level. Victorian London, Edo Japan, and futuristic cities are all awesome things that shouldn’t exist together, but they do here, and why not? Each new level is a wild departure from the one that preceded it, and that not only gives one-man developer Konjak a way to show off his considerable talents as a pixel artist, but gives players a reason to keep playing despite the fact that it can get repetitive quickly. Of course, that’s pretty much the nature of the beast, and you’ll probably be too caught up in all the action to really care.
So, about that gimmick. See, rather than use simple button presses to initiate attacks, Noitu Love: Devolution has you utilizing the touch screen to pull off most actions. Tapping for standard attacks; holding and sliding to grapple and throw; combining the touch screen with d-pad input for shields; it all takes a slight bit of mental adjustment, especially as you’re still using your left hand to move and jump. but once you’re used to it, it feels natural enough… fun, even. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for a standard button-based control scheme. Aside from the fact that holding the stylus over the screen constantly obscures all that beautiful sprite work, I haven’t tapped and rubbed a screen this furiously since Feel The Magic: XY/XX, and sometimes that worries me. On the other hand, the game’s a whole lotta fun, and the 3DS is Nintendo Tough, so if you’re not a maniac with the stylus, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The graphics are gorgeous, the action is breathtakingly fast, and most of the end of level bosses are just plain cool to look at, even if their actual battles occasionally frustrate. If Noitu Love: Devolution has any real failing, it’s that the action is so hectic that you’ll rarely ever have time to make use of all of Xoda’s skills. You can get through most of the game just by jabbing at enemies as quickly as possible, but for players looking to get the best rank in each stage, Noitu Love: Devolution demands a level of finesse that can only be accomplished with practice. That said, it’s never super clear what you should focus on in each stage to improve your ranking. Should you shoot for a higher attack combo? Less damage sustained by Xoda? Faster completion time? All of these things are important to your ranking, but you never really know when to move on from an endlessly respawning horde of robots, or if you should eat hits from bosses instead of avoiding damage so you can beat them faster, or if using a special move will get you more points than the standard melee attack. In fact, a poorly placed throw or glide attack could put you off your combo or send you farther away from an enemy’s weak point, so you’ll find yourself mostly avoiding special attacks.
The game has only seven levels, and if that sounds short to you… well, it is, and it isn’t. Games used to be a lot shorter, and most of the really great beat ’em ups and shoot ’em ups on the SNES and Genesis only have six or seven levels each. But you know what? There’s something to be said about a game that swaggers onto a Nintendo console or handheld in 2016, provides an unforgettable half hour of gameplay from start to finish, and then lets you put it down as quickly as you picked it up so you can go back to slogging through the bloated dreck that makes up most of today’s gaming landscape. Best of all, you don’t have to finish the whole thing in one setting: Noitu Love: Devolution is just as fun in five minute bursts as it is played all the way through. Take all of its great features and add an unlockable character that completely changes the play style and S-ranks for high-level players, and the game gives you plenty of reasons to keep coming back. They don’t get much better than this!
Invisible Gamer’s review of Noitu Love: Devolution is based on 3DS review code provided to us by Konjak. The game launches on Thursday, September 15th, 2016.