Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns [REVIEW]
Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns is a true blue beat ‘em up in the most old school of senses. You don’t level up your character, there aren’t any special attack combinations, and you don’t have to solve any half-assed puzzles to progress the game. It’s just straight ass-kickin from start to finish, though while it fails to innovate, the original Noitu Love makes up for it by offering some of prettiest sprites, and most well designed boss fights I’ve seen in a while.
The gameplay is pretty standard. You have a basic attack, two special attacks, and a jump, and for the most part, that’s all you’ll have at your disposal to take on the swarms of Darns that will be making constant attempts on your life. Basic as it is, the gameplay is still a lot of fun, namely because of the differing enemies. Each new level will introduce new foes, each with their own quirks and patterns, which keep things from getting too stale. In fact, the levels themselves are all quite beautiful, each with their own unique styles. One of my favorites is the rave you find at the graveyard level that has all of the zombie Darns dancing like mad in the background. Each level has it’s own unique look and feel, but the graveyard was a particularly enjoyable experience.
Noitu Love also manages to keep things interesting by granting you the ability to take different forms. Aside from your normal mode, at certain points in the game you can change in to either a monkey, a bird, or this strange egg-head creature that causes explosions. Each one plays differently and opens up a totally different style of play, which goes a long way towards adding some welcome variety to the level designs. Changing form in games like these can sometimes add up to nothing more than feeling like a different fighting style, but the way it’s implemented here really adds some much needed diversity to the gameplay, and the experience is enhanced because of it.
Speaking of interesting scenarios, I’ve gotta hand it to Konjak for the boss fights in this game. While the levels themselves are fun, and pretty to look at, it’s these fights that really take the game to a different level. They’re all excellently designed, and a few of them are genuinely memorable. One boss uses the aforementioned transformation mechanic to have you take the form of a monkey (which has the ability to jump super high) in order to hit a switch on top of the enemy’s flying machine, which then exposes his weak point. Then you have to head back to the device and transform back in to your normal form in order to actually attack it before it goes away again. What could’ve been just another boss fight was given another layer of depth by adding that transformation mechanic in to the mix.
Some of the bosses are actually quite memorable just for their personalities as well. The boss of the graveyard level is a musician who gets cranky when you can’t play any chords, so he moves you to the side to show you how it’s done. Then when you interrupt his melody, the gloves come off and it’s time to fight! Another fun one was a boss that liked to say “Marvelous!” quite often, and then once you defeated him, he proclaimed, “Marvelous! Wait… no it’s not!” which was an amusing touch. Of course it’s less amusing in this context, but trust me, it made with the laughs. My point is that while the story isn’t at all deep, in any sense of the word, the boss characters are still quite enjoyable thanks to some clever writing. I won’t give anything away, but the final level in particular goes pretty all out in the presentation department. The design of the level, which is really just one giant boss fight, is a truly impressive display, both visually and from a design perspective. It is really something else.
It almost feels redundant to bring up the visuals of this game, but it would also feel negligent not to at least focus on them a little bit. If you have eyes, and you can appreciate sprite art, Noitu Love is a truly fantastic game to partake in. Vibrant colors, spot on shading, great attention to detail, and seriously, have I mentioned that final level? It was so good. I must admit though, talking about the game’s fantastic visuals leads me to my one main gripe about the experience, which is the default display size of the game. It wasn’t until after I had already finished the game that I discovered there really is an option to change the overall size of the window, but in my time playing, I was stuck viewing the game in this dinky little screen that couldn’t have been wider than 300-400 pixels. There’s nothing in the options menu or really anywhere in the game (that I saw) that tells you how to display the game in a larger window, which is such a travesty as the visuals were so well done, but I never truly got to appreciate them because the display was so damn small! I admit, a quick Google search would’ve revealed that hitting Alt+Enter will maximize the game’s display (though still not a true full screen), but that’s not really the point. Something this basic should not have come across as some kind of hidden feature. Noitu Love is a great looking game, so it really saddens me that I played through it on such a tiny screen.
When all is said and done, Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns is a brief, but enjoyable beat ‘em up experience. I’d say the average completion time for it is one and a half to two hours, which is honestly just about perfect. There’s some great design here, but it does start to get repetitive after a while. The fantastic boss fights do wonders to combat this and keep the experience fun and fresh. It’s a shame that the unintuitive display options had me playing in such a small window, but it’s undeniable that there’s some truly wonderful sprite art in this game. The soundtrack, while also a bit repetitive at times, was generally a lot of fun to listen to, especially in the graveyard rave.
Also, it’s free. The only concern you should have when deciding whether or not to play a free game, is if it’s genuinely worth the time you’d spend on it, and I am adamant that Noitu Love is most certainly worth your time. It comes and goes fairly quickly, but it’s a blast while you’re there.
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[Note: there's no official trailer that I could find, so here's some gameplay, courtesy of PixelProspector]