Null Divide+

A game by Merge the Memory Bit Studios for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2013.
In Null Divide+, you control a ship which is running dangerously low on fuel, and you decide to enter a large – and apparently abandoned – space station to scavenge for the supplies you need. Of course, it turns out the station is far from empty, and dangerous enemies await you around every corner. Fortunately, the station also contains a number of upgrades which allow you to defeat said enemies and explore ever further.

While the game is divided into individual missions, the levels themselves are largely nonlinear, allowing for Metroidvania-style exploration within the confines of the mission area. You must explore each area for 3 color-coded keys to open doors of the corresponding colors, although the keys may often be collected in any order. In addition, your ship’s abilities affect the areas you can explore, and some areas may be restricted until you gain the proper upgrade.

For instance, a number of fans are spread throughout the station, pushing your ship away when you move in front of them. With your default thrust, you are pushed away and unable to move forward. However, grabbing a boost upgrade allows you to push slowly against these currents and proceed into the area beyond.

The ability to boost is restricted by a meter on the top of the screen, allowing the ship to speed up and move against currents for a limited time. The meter refills on its own over time, and additional upgrades can be found which make it more efficient, allowing for boosts which consume the meter less quickly.

Other powerups include health increases and upgrades to your weapon that allow you to fire more shots in succession and to unleash a charged shot that can pass through walls and defeat shielded enemies. You will also discover bombs that interrupt electrical signals, temporarily disabling some enemies and dropping energy barriers. There is also a shield which helps you to avoid damage from enemies, and it is required to pass through gauntlets of rapid fire turrets.

Enemy designs are basic, with most appearing as simple geometric shapes with a few color highlights, as is the case with the developer’s previous works. However, despite their simple physical designs, enemy behaviors are quite varied. Some enemies seek your position while others remain stationary unless you interact with them. Some enemies cause you to slow down when they are nearby, making your movement more sluggish and making it more difficult to fire. There are gravity-based enemies that pull you toward them and which also act as obstacles by pulling you toward walls of spikes. There are even some flying enemies that circle you, changing their movement patterns based on your speed and direction, avoiding your fire until you recognize their movement pattern.

The player is able to move and fire independently, and most enemies can be picked off from a distance. However, there are a number of situations where up-close encounters with foes are impossible to avoid, requiring players to remain quick on the trigger. The game’s four boss encounters are particularly challenging as well, placing the player in an arena with a fast moving enemy that can unleash a number of special attacks.

Each boss can absorb 100 hits from your standard weapon, or substantially fewer from your charged shot. However, given the amount of time it takes to charge a shot, a steady barrage of regular weapon fire is often preferred… at least until the boss speeds up. Each boss moves more quickly as the fight progresses, and the number of objects and projectiles increases as well. In addition, each boss has phases of invincibility where the player must move to avoid its attacks without the ability to retaliate.

Throughout the space station are a number of hidden artifacts, and collecting enough of these artifacts will allow you to open a secret door in each of the game’s four missions. These artifacts are well-hidden, often requiring that you discover secret passages in order to reach them. These passages are generally behind false walls that appear solid, but the level design provides clues as to their location by framing them with obstacles or using a different type of tile.

However, even if you are thorough in your exploration, it’s actually impossible to collect all of the artifacts on your first time through… While the player is never outright informed of this, the game features a new game+ mode whereby players can return to previously completed missions with upgrades from later levels, allowing them to uncover additional artifacts. In so doing, the player opens up additional ship upgrades.

Checkpoints are frequent, and these points restore your health, energy meter, and bombs. Often you are free to return to checkpoints at will – although enemies will respawn if you leave an area and return – but there are many instances where you will enter a closed off area. In these cases, you are tasked with surviving until you reach a key, at which point you will be able to return to the common area and access a save point. However, even if you are killed, you will retain any pickups you acquired along the way.

Some more challenging areas appear in the form of “de-contained” areas, which appear to be open to space (although your ship is able to fly freely in space, so this is narratively questionable). You have a limited time to be in these de-contained areas before your ship explodes. Often, these areas are packed with enemies and spikes, and you are tasked with making it through quickly and safely to grab a key. Of course, additional hidden powerups and artifacts may be tucked away here as well.

The game has only four missions, accounting for maybe an hour or so of gameplay from beginning to end, making it possible to complete the entire experience in a single sitting. Returning to the previous levels to get 100% completion adds a bit of extra time, as does the unlockable boss rush mode. The game also features in-game achievements in the form of medals, and allows for drop-in drop-out 2P local co-op, with both players sharing a single life bar.

Null Divide+ is an enhanced version of Null Divide, which was originally released on the Xbox 360 in 2010 via Xbox Live Indie Games. This new release features an updated soundtrack, keyboard and mouse support (in addition to dual analogue control), a boss rush mode, and a number of programming fixes, making this the definitive version of the game. The game was developed by Merge the Memory Bit Studios, headed by Patrick Derosby, who also released several other titles onto Xbox Live Indie Games, including the excellent minimalist platformer Mute Crimson.

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