Noitu Love 2: Devolution

A game by Konjak for PC, WiiU, and 3DS, originally released in 2008.
Noitu Love 2: Devolution was released as a downloadable title for PC in 2008 by Joakim Sandberg under his Konjak label. The game was created in Multimedia Fusion 2, and was intended to be ported to WiiWare by Golgoth Studio, but the WiiWare version of the game was cancelled... and then un-cancelled, sort of. MP2 games, the studio which ported Knytt Underground and Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures to Nintendo platforms, developed ports of the game for Wii U and 3DS, so the game made it to Nintendo platforms after all.

The 2D action game is a sequel to Sandberg’s freeware game called Noitu Love & The Army of Grinning Darns, which took place in 2188 and saw peacekeeper Noitu Love facing off against Darnacus Damnation and his army of Darns.

This game picks up 100 years later with a new peacekeeper, Xoda Rap, who must once again save the world from the Darn army. Here’s the official story so far:

The year is 2288. The city is protected by an organization called “The Peacekeepers League” and everything is swell except for that it’s under attack! By a robot army lead by professor Darnacus Damnation!! Or is it… ?

100 years after the events of Noitu Love 1 the new star of the Peacekeepers is Xoda Rap, and what she has to endure is a sudden resurrection of the Darn armies, but adding to that the city is locally turning to places of the past! What could be causing this?

Buildings and objects from several different time periods are appearing all over the city, creating environments with different architecture from the past, with enemies and obstacles themed to those areas. And Doppelori makes a return.

Doppelori was a boss from the first game, a robotic version of Noitu’s girlfriend Lori created by Darnacus, which was deactivated and put into storage following the events in that game. Is it she, rather than Darnacus, who is responsible for what’s happening to the city? Or does she have entirely different motives altogether?

A quick note about names. Noitu Love is “evolution” spelled backward, and evolution was the theme of the original game. And thus the Devolution subtitle here suggests that things are going the other way around. Secondly, the main character in this game is named Xoda Rap, which is “paradox” spelled backwards, and that is the theme of this game. We’ll not ruin the storyline here by going into further detail, nor will we spoil the numerous humorously-named bosses.

Finally, Darnacus is very similar to the word “sardonicus”, which would explain all of the sardonic grins on the faces of the enemies (known as Darns). Risus sardonicus is a condition where an individual experiences a sustained muscle spasm that causes his eyebrows to raise and his face to take on an “evil-looking” grin. Mr. Sardonicus was also the title of a rather creepy movie from the 1960’s starring a character who could not remove the death-like smile from his face, and wore a mask to cover it. The final reveal was one of the creepiest things ever filmed.

But let’s get back to fun-blasting video games. While you have direct control over Xoda Rap’s movement and jumping, you use a targeting reticule to control her attacks. By tapping/clicking over a specific spot, Xoda will dash to that location, and you can use this method to navigate the environment, dodge attacks, or dash to enemies and unleash a flurry of punches and kicks. Different attacks occur based on whether you simply hit the ATTACK button, or drag the cursor across the screen while attacking. Additional moves include a wall-jump, a remote shield, a charged shot, the ability to grab onto hooks, and to grab and toss enemies.

The first thing that you’ll notice when playing this game is that the developer seems to be summoning forth the spirit of Treasure. The game looks every bit as good as a Treasure game does, with its beautiful, colorful, and well-animated sprite art, a quirky sense of humor, and numerous over-the-top bosses and mini-bosses, each with their own method of attack – usually multiple methods of attack – and very distinct look. There are even some returning favorites from the first game.

When Sandburg isn’t taking hits from his official Gunstar Heroes Brand Huffing Rag™, he’s finding ways to add variety to the gameplay and create detailed characters with exciting and unexpected abilities. And one of his favorite things to do is to create boss encounters, as is clearly evidenced by this game. You will face off against several of them per level in this 7 level game, each of which requires a new set of tactics to defeat. The bosses gain a few new abilities on the higher difficulty settings, and there’s even a secret boss to be found in Hard mode.

Darns are the standard enemy type in this game. There are several varieties of Darn which have different appearances and abilities depending on the level where you find them. This includes magic Darns, exploding Darns, frog Darns, cowboy Darns, and many more. There are also several non-Darn enemies in the game, each with their own abilities. And, there’s a good spattering of humor throughout, with humorous animations, signs, and NPC’s in the background.

The pace of the game is extremely fast, and you’ll find yourself constantly assaulted by numerous enemies, exploding projectiles, and huge bosses. Fortunately, the cursor-control helps you fight back just as quickly, bringing the whole thing to a pretty furious pace. You’ll often find that Xoda’s feet barely touch the ground as she flits about, dashing from enemy to enemy and pummeling them until they explode. Most of the time, you’ll see the words KEEP GOING flashing above the arrows at the bottom of the screen. There is no time (nor reason) to be standing around.

As you play, you’ll encounter some changes to the rules of engagement in each level. The developer didn’t want things to become boring, so you’ll have to learn a new strategy or two with each level. But there is one level that changes the rules entirely. Level 4 places you on a hoverboard in the wild west (Doc Brown would be proud), and you have an entirely new weapon with which to engage enemies. This is a forced-scrolling area, and your reticule now allows you to line up a solid beam and drop it onto enemies for continuous damage. However, some enemies are shielded and can only be defeated by drawing a line from a projectile to the enemy, which causes a chain reaction. This allows you to get in behind enemy shields and destroy them, and works similarly in design to one of Sanberg’s previous games, Chalk (see below). There are several other iterations of this tracing ability throughout the level, which let you bring down entire enemy formations, or destroy power sources controlling enemy weapons. And of course, each boss and miniboss encounter will challenge you to use this weapon in different ways.

In addition to Xoda, there are unlockable characters as well, whose movement and attack abilities are very different. One of the characters has her own storyline including a new end-boss and ending sequence, which help to explain some of the story elements that you didn’t see during your initial playthrough. While you’ll experience a reduced number of levels in your secondary playthroughs with the unlockable characters, you will encounter some tweaks here and there to accommodate for their different abilities.

Developer Joakim Sandberg is known for creating games with great sprite art and animation, a sense of humor, and tight shooting action. He does all of the coding, graphics, sound effects, and music for his own games under the Konjak label.

He has even done some professional work in the game industry, having provided his talents for spritework and character animations to several 2D WayForward games, including The Flash (a.k.a. That One Good Game Starring The Flash), Jake Long, and X-Men 3 on the GBA, and even Contra 4 on the DS.

The Iconoclasts is a colorful action adventure title starring a girl named Robin who is a mechanic in a world where her particular craft is considered to be illegal. The Konjak pedigree shines through with this beautifully crafted world filled with gorgeous sprites, detailed animations, and loads of character and humor. More than just an aesthetically appealing title, the mechanics are solid as well, with precision platforming, varied gameplay, and a compelling Metroidvania structure.

Robin finds herself at odds with the oppressive rulers of the land, those who control both law and religion, and who may have played a part in her father’s mysterious death. And if that weren’t enough, the moon is slowly crumbling and falling out of the sky.

Robin is equipped with a versatile projectile weapon and a wrench that can be used for melee combat as well as environmental navigation and puzzle solving. Throughout her journey, she is able to upgrade her abilities, team up with other characters with their own specialties, and use her skills to take on complex bosses in extended multi-phase battles.

Legend of Princess is a short side-scrolling action game based on The Legend of Zelda series where you play a princess dressed similarly to Link. You carry a sword and a shield and travel through temples, slashing enemies, breaking pots, and opening chests to reveal hearts, keys, and colored coins. Several other Zelda mainstays are included, including chicken tossing (which can assist you in reaching higher areas), health-restoring fairies stored in bottles, and even a boomerang that allows you to break open pots, hit enemies, and activate switches.

Legend of Princess includes a number enemies from the Zelda games, including Octorok, Zora, and several other recognizable characters. You’ll also notice some very similar musical themes. All-in-all, it has solid action-based level design, Sandberg’s trademark sprite art, and some interesting boss encounters. If you’re thinking that this is a watered-down fan attempt at a side-scrolling game akin to Zelda II, you’d be wrong. While it shares a number of elements, it is faster and more action-packed than any Zelda game you’ve ever played.

Chalk is an arcade action game where you draw lines with the cursor to cause chain reactions that destroy targets and enemies. You can draw lines through enemy shots to chain them together and create increasingly more powerful explosions that are capable of destroying powerful armored enemies (this works a bit like the explosion chains in SkyGunner). You can even use the chalk lines to shield yourself from attacks, similarly to Kirby: Canvas Curse.

There are several huge bosses that can only be destroyed via creative use of connect-the-dots chain reactions. The greater the chain, the greater the damage and score multipliers. The game is presented in a simple chalkboard style design with an outlined female character in a school uniform with a red tie.

Tripline is a 30 level puzzle game, with increasingly challenging levels. You have to draw a single line across a set of shapes, lining up three of the same shape before moving to the next. You cannot cross the line you’ve already drawn.

Noitu Love & The Army of Grinning Darns has a familiar premise:
The year is 2188. The city is protected by an organization called “The Peacekeepers League” and everything is swell except for that it’s under attack! By a robot army lead by professor Darnacus Damnation!!

Unlike part 2, this is a straight-up action game where you have direct control over your character’s movement, jumping, and punching. This 7 level game is more slower-paced and deliberate compared to part 2, but still a pretty fast-paced action game overall. In this game, you control Noitu Love, a young peacekeeper who is out to stop Darnacus and impress Lori, the intercom girl. In addition to his standard attacks, Noitu can use machines called Evomatics, which allow him to change forms and gain new abilities, such as enhanced speed, and the ability to fly.

In addition to the fully-completed games outlined above, Sandberg has worked on several promising games that have since been abandoned:

Mina of the Pirates was abandoned in 2005 after 3 years of development, and roughly 2/3 completion. Restrictions in Multimedia Fusion 1.5 made it difficult for Sandberg to make the changes to the game that he wanted. Still, it looks good and shows off his spritework, animation, and humor.

Solar Plexus is a puzzle/platformer: “You play as Zaya as she travels to a space station trying to find out what happened to her friend. As she does you solve puzzles by moving blocks around, thanks to her suit made for cargo handling at space docks.”