In the original Krystopia: A Puzzle Journey from Antler Interactive, intergalactic scavenger Nova Dune found herself stranded on the titular mysterious, seemingly uninhabited planet. Now, in the sequel, Nova's Journey, this scrappy scavenger makes her way through a series of underground caves to discover that the gorgeous Krystopia might just not be so uninhabited after all. Why have the planet's residents been driven underground? Who are the "Titans," and are they the answer to the planet's many mysteries? Will Nova ever find her way back to her spaceship - or even see the sun again?
Nova's Journey is a puzzle-adventure hybrid which takes place over three chapters. Players are given the option to progress straightforwardly through the game, completing only plot-relevant puzzles, or add a variety of optional challenges in order to collect "Relics" - items which reveal more about the history and culture of Krystopia. This is an excellent pacing decision, as players primarily interested in the plot can remain laser-focused (pun fully intended) while puzzle enthusiasts have plenty of opportunities to challenge themselves.
The puzzles make up the heart of Nova's Journey, and I'm thrilled to report that they are, for the most part, excellently crafted. The previous title in this series, A Puzzle Journey, received some criticism for featuring too many puzzles which required redirecting a laser beam or using multiple laser beams to create a pattern. While this game still contains its fair share of laser puzzles, the developers definitely listened to fan opinions - you'll have to solve slide puzzles, collect clues, twist tiles, re-order runes, and even do some good old fashioned point-and-clicking as Nova progresses through Krystopia's caverns.
The first two chapters of the game, which deal with Nova and her new allies making their way towards the planet's surface, featured excellent pacing and a good balance between puzzles and dialogue. However, I was a bit disappointed when I got to the last chapter, which featured what felt like a nonstop barrage of puzzle after puzzle as Nova explored the Krystopia residents' abandoned city. I ended up feeling majorly frustrated - Nova was so close to finding the secrets about Krystopia, but it felt like for every piece of information she learned, I had to solve two or even three puzzles to make any progress!
While I played Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 in one sitting each, I absolutely struggled through 3 over multiple days, frequently losing interest in playing at all. Luckily, the game does allow you to play the chapters out of order as well as returning to previous chapters at any time, so I could go back and enjoy myself collecting Relics when I got too frustrated to make any actual progress in the plot. My frustration was compounded by the game's lack of a hint system - while objects which can be interacted with will eventually flash if left alone too long, no clues are provided for the puzzles themselves. This seemed quite the noticeable lack, as the game presented plenty of opportunities for hints to be delivered - Nova frequently talks to herself as well as to her lizard-like companion Skrii, not to mention the various Krystopia residents who would presumably know even more about the planet's plethora of puzzles than Nova herself.
Moving away from the puzzles themselves, I did find myself enjoying both the storytelling and the art style of this game. Even underground, Krystopia is a vibrant, color-rich, truly unique planet, filled with power-providing crystal flowers, bizarre fruits and veggies, ancient ruins powered by long-forgotten technologies and, of course, the multiple alien races - some locked in combat, others living in harmony.
Although it definitely helps to have played the first Krystopia, players could feasibly start from Nova's Journey without having any prior familiarity with the series. Despite limited dialogue (almost none at all until mid-Chapter 2) the game does an excellent job at establishing Krystopia as a lore-rich planet with a detailed history and cultural customs both bizarre and relatable. I especially loved Nova's genuine enthusiasm as she commented on each new Relic - she was equally excited to discover a universal translator and an alien toilet!
You can't talk about the characters in Nova's Journey without bringing up the game's most charming personality: Skrii, a lizard-like creature who Nova rescues early on and quickly becomes her closest companion. He's quite the useful fellow, able to access small spaces which Nova herself cannot, and "talking" to him often allows Nova to express her own thoughts regarding her current situation. But even if he didn't serve a single function in the plot, I would still love Skrii. How could I not? He's downright adorable!!!
Finally, a mention must be made of the game's art style. Like its predecessor, Nova's Journey makes excellent use of color, gradually transitioning from the dim, eerily lit caverns to the brighter, more colorful setting of the surface world. I liked how each chapter had its own distinct aesthetic and atmosphere, which was created via colors, shapes and even small details such as bio-luminescent flowers and creatures inhabiting the caves versus more "normally" patterned plants and wildlife on the surface. Even when I was at my most frustrated due to a particularly challenging puzzle, I always enjoyed experiencing the thoroughly pleasant atmosphere of the game.
I would recommend Krystopia: Nova's Journey to any gamers who would enjoy a rich story combined with interesting and unique puzzles. Gamers who are interested in experiencing Nova's story from the very beginning should check out the original Puzzle Journey first, but Nova's Journey is also an acceptable starting point which can be enjoyed as its own experience. Given that the game's ending definitely left things open, I hope to see even more puzzle-filled Nova adventures in the future!
This review was based off a copy provided by the publisher.