Hands on with NimbleBit's next title, Nimble Quest
I am a huge fan, as you may already know, of the two brothers behind NimbleBit and all of their work, from the earlier titles like Scoops and DizzyPad to the much larger freemium hits they've had like Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. The last time I talked to either of the Marsh brothers in person, I was told that the company was hoping to shrink in scope a little bit, and make more, smaller games, rather than huge freemium titles full of content. I was also told that they were going to return to Textropolis, an early title of theirs, and maybe expand it into something with a little more accessibility.
But it turns out neither of those plans were true. The company is currently working on a game called Nimble Quest, which is both not a word game, and seems pretty full of content to me. As previously described, it's a sort of arcade RPG, where you guide a line of adventurers through a series of stages, earning currency you can use to level them up. When the guys at NimbleBit sent me a preview beta build this week, I eagerly jumped to play it, and I think I can describe the game (in its current working state, at least) in just one word. That word is "Snake."
Yes, the classic video game has a long tradition of appearing on mobile platforms, and it is a very clear influence to the NimbleBit team here -- the game even brings up a picture of an old black-and-white device playing the game to describe to a new player just how Nimble Quest works. In each game, you start out as one hero, and then you move that hero around a field, swiping in various directions to steer your little guy around.
And that's it, basically. Attacking is all done automatically -- if an enemy is in range and your adventurer is facing the right direction, you'll attack. Killing enemies drops a number of different bonuses and powerups: You can collect coins (which are your main currency, used to upgrade both your individual heroes and all of the powerups), extra abilities (like a coin magnet, similar to Temple Run, or an extra shield or bit of attack power for your hero), or heroes, which then are added to your line (just as you'd grow a longer snake in the traditional Snake game).
Ian Marsh has been tweeting videos of the game in action, so you can see what it's all like by checking those out.
The trickiest part of the game is that your enemies also have their own routes, speed and ranges, so while soldiers will just slash the space in front of them, spiders will toss ranged webs to slow you down, and skeletons will throw bones at you no matter which direction you happen to be in. In fact, the current beta build is fairly tough: If you crash into the wall or another enemy, you die, and that has happened to me a lot. Having one of the characters following you die isn't a big deal, but having your lead hero die ends the game, at which point you're given a Temple Run-style epitaph ("Ulrich got stomped on by a spider"), and the chance to continue by spending another bit of currency (strangely not Nimble Bux -- they're round and white, so I've been calling them "pearls").
Outside of the core game, you can use the gems you've earned to upgrade each of the heroes, which are unlocked over time, and so far tend towards the main fantasy tropes: There's a tough soldier, a ranged archer, a mage and so on. The characters get more esoteric as you unlock them, so later on there's a ninja to play with, some sort of demon guy and a few fun references to other games and properties. Characters can be unlocked either by finding them in the game, or by outright buying them with IAP, though that feature isn't hooked up just yet. In addition to upgrading the heroes you do have unlocked, you can also use gems to buy one-time buffs, if you so choose.
Not that I'd need to buy any extra gems -- like all of NimbleBit's other games, Nimble Quest seems nice and generous with its currency, and there's a lot of fun to be had just questing through the game's levels, earning as many gems as you can and setting high scores as you figure it all out. At some point, an Arena mode also unlocks, which I presume is an endless mode to quest away in -- but I haven't opened it up yet myself.
The game does seem a little less complicated than Pocket Planes, which is not a bad thing at all -- this is a more of a grindy, progression-based arcade game than a freemium management title, which will likely appeal to a nice, wide swath of the App Store. But even though the gameplay is slightly simpler, there's no shortage of content here to unlock and find, so NimbleBit's claims of trying to make smaller, more compact games were probably overtaken by the Marsh brothers' interest in creating a lot of fun RPG-style rewards for Nimble Quest.
Considering that the game is currently in beta, a release has to be somewhat close, but NimbleBit has stayed mum on exactly when Nimble Quest might be done. Given the state of what I've played already, and a few comments the team has made on Twitter, I'd say we'll look out for it on the App Store within another month or so. I'm scheduled to speak with NimbleBit for sure next month at GDC, so if we don't see Nimble Quest available by then, I'll be sure to ask them why.