Release Date: 19 January 2018
Price: $3.99 / £2.99
Reviewed by Antonio Guillen
"Whooaaahh!" That was the first word out of my mouth after I booted up Nuclien. This arcade-action puzzle game from developer Springloaded kicks off with a treat for the eyes and ears. Nuclien opens with a a few lines of text explaining that you are a DNA architect at the start of a new universe; a mathematician, tasked with sequencing all lives. Clearly this sets the stage for a game where you’re challenged to pop numbers as they appear on screen in the correct order before times runs out.
Out of the gate I was stunned at Nuclien’s vibrant visuals. I haven’t willingly spent this much time hanging around a game’s menu screens in quite a while. Colourful DNA strands and mind pleasing electric tunes immediately pumped me up to play. Even as I’m writing this review I have the level select screen bopping and booping in the background.
By the Numbers
When I finally broke away from my personal dance party I was met with another surprise. I wasn’t aware that Nuclien is a touch-screen game and that it was originally released on mobile in 2012. I was intrigued since I hadn’t played a touch-screen heavy title on the Switch to date.
Initially you’re tasked with simply racing to tap numbers in order, counting up or counting down. Various worlds change things up by making you follow a mix of rules. Numbers outlined by a circle must be popped high to low, while at the same time, numbers outlined by a square shape must be popped low to high.
Tapping the wrong bubble penalizes you by breaking your combo multiplier and depleting your time bar. An increasingly aggressive time limit and numbers popping that appear and interrupt a sequence quickly demand your full attention and feline level reflexes.
Before you know it things have intensified and your hand and eyes are darting around the screen, searching for your next numerical victim. Oddly the ‘hit box’ around numbers at the outset are incredibly forgiving, touching anywhere near your target awards you with pop.
Knowledge is Power
Nuclien gives you access to four color coded and biologically themed worlds. As I mentioned before, each sports their own rules and within each world is an increasingly challenging tier of levels. If you manage to pop through the full number sequence fast enough you unlock the next level and move up the world’s DNA like strand.
Your reward for completing levels is knowledge. This acts as a currency that can be used to purchase either a Time Bonus, that extends the time limit to complete each level, or a Knowledge Bonus, that increases the amount of knowledge you earn for completing each level.
Completing consecutive levels in a sitting awards you with a multiplier, earning you even more knowledge. The game could benefit from a more detailed tutorial on the matter, but I found that you can earn a higher rank for skilled play in each level, as well as a high score.
I found no need to exponentially increase my reward for Knowledge because I found little need to increase the timer across all worlds. The game asked me to eschew racing through the tier of any one world in favour of trying another, but I disobeyed and I was able to progress almost the whole way up two worlds before meeting a ridiculously short timer.
A fifth and final world is locked until you play through the other areas, but even that didn’t entice me to continue. By the time I had more Knowledge than I knew what to do with, I'd had my fill of the gameplay. At a certain point, purchasing an extended timer for wiggle room becomes necessary, but this still feels like a cheap way to progress through the game. I'd much rather overcome reasonable challenges than purchase my way out of a hole.
Rat in a Cage
I realized early on that I wasn’t experiencing the same sense of accomplishment offered by conquering a traditional brain teaser, and the core counting mechanic never grabbed me.
Nuclien may be an ideal experience for players looking for an intense ride. You’re forced to think quickly while under the gun, but I enjoyed myself most when the game allowed me to get into a rhythm. Unfortunately, it pushes back on that desire for speed. Nuclien wants you to pause for a brief moment, adapt, then act.
Rad tunes keep chiming away during gameplay but numbers and shapes aren’t accompanied by stimulating effects. This is probably for the best, since you’re trying to concentrate, but I couldn’t but notice all the visual flair was caged inside the menus, whimpering to be set free.
At times I would fail a level because I didn’t process visual cues quickly enough to re-route my attack. Sometimes I moved too fast or simply missed a number in a sea of digits. Worst of all, I found myself being conscious of how far back I had to bring my hand back between taps to avoid obstructing my view.
Besides the game's intentional, built-in challenge, you might also have trouble speeding through puzzles while balancing the Switch in one hand and tapping with the other. That said, I’m sure this will vary depending on your sitting position and handling solution.
Since the Switch is larger and heavier than even the largest cell-phone, your arm will eventually tire after lengthy play sessions. To stabilize my grip I used one of the JoyCon analog sticks as an anchor. However, I still feared that an accidental drop was possible, and that younger players might have a rough go.
Sadly Nuclien fails to dazzle over the long-term and its brand of hectic touch-screen gameplay may not be right for the Nintendo Switch. The game suffers as it pushes back just when you try to gain momentum. Intense touch-screen action is passable but there is little incentive for you to progress.
Pros & Cons
+ Great music
- No flow to the gameplay
- Odd progression with weak rewards
- Touch screen play gets uncomfortable