In this action-platform game you play as a swashbuckling swordsman named Ardeshir, who has returned home to Nahran after many years. Your native island has been attacked by unknown enemies and is shrouded in a mysterious fog and deadly, health-draining darkness. Fortunately you find you can dispel the mist if you imbue your sword with fire, and unsurprisingly this also does more damage to the invaders you encounter. Your objective is clear; you must carve your way across Nahran to discover what happened to your people, and in particular your beloved sister Arsia (No, really.)
Controls are mapped thus: Special Power "LT", Ranged Attack "RT", Main Attack "X", Secondary Attack "Y" Interact "RB", Roll/Dash "B" and Jump on "A". You can also extend a jump by pressing "X" mid-jump and heal yourself by holding 'LB' when you have fire.
Yeah it's mostly set in a dingy atmosphere, but you'd have to be a bit dim to expect Nocturnal to be a bright, sunny game. Fortunately you can often dispel the mist and darkness when your sword is aflame, and killing enemies, setting certain bits of scenery on fire and destroying objects earns you "ashes." These are points which can be used to acquire and enhance your abilities via a RPG-like skill tree. These are granted to you by your people's god Phoenix, in the form of Phoenix Gifts, and can only be allocated when you find a Phoenix temple (some are easier to find than others, so a bit of exploration is wise.) These abilities range from improved healing, longer health bar, extended fire duration and increased speed when you have fire.
Most of the gameplay early on involves a bit of platforming and simple fight sequences that are made easier by keeping the torches lit by transferring fire from one torch to another–this is done with your flaming sword. Later platforms appear and disappear, or move–Powered by fire that you have to keep alight. I really enjoyed these sequences and thought they showed a lot of imagination.
Overall Nocturnal is unashamedly basic visually, and Ardeshir and his enemies aren't particularly detailed or well animated, but oh my, the flame, smoke and ember effects are gorgeous. The smoky wake that Adeshir leaves as you tear through a dark or misty area looks amazing!
Tragically, the first sub-boss battle (only about 40 minutes or so in) killed Nocturnal for me. This battle against a huge Imperial Guard represented a massive difficulty spike, and 20 or more attempts later I gave up, hot under the collar and frustrated (although the weather is extremely hot and sweaty at the moment anyway) I did this with a good deal of reluctance but without shame as it's just ridiculously hard and I have other games to review. Returning the next day I managed to beat him after another 20 or so attempts, and the next mini boss battle, who was a doddle in comparison...
But oh dear, the next fight was against another giant dagger-throwing 'Imperial Guard' and after 20 or more tries I gave up the game and retired from the world of Nocturnal forever, valuing my sanity more than Gamerpoints. I'm not sure who beta tested Nocturnal and gave this level of difficulty a thumbs up, but they need a reality check because their cluelessness or "elite gamer" egos ruined a cracking little game for me. Hopefully Sunnyside will issue an update that includes a difficulty setting for normal mortals. Until then I find it impossible to recommend Nocturnal even at a price of £16.74, which seems overpriced for maybe an hour of gameplay that'll end in frustration and disappointment for the vast majority.
Oh there's also a Speed Run mode for idiot beta testers, hardcore fans and players who don't want to play anything other than Nocturnal for the rest of their lives, so the best of luck with that!