Developer: Abbas Razzaq
Release Date: 03/03/2016
Last year at about this time, I reviewed Norna for the PC. While the core mechanics for the game have remained the same for the iOS port, there have been some changes. Also, it’s been long enough since that review that it is probably worth going over it all again for a new batch of players. The bottom line is that puzzle aficionados are going to want to check this out.
Norna doesn’t really have a plot in the traditional sense. However, to say there’s no story would be doing it a great disservice. You play as an entity whose purpose is to guide people to their fate. That fate might be simply to move from one place to another. It could also be to die in a hail of gunfire. You might need to cause a five car pile up. Either way, things need to happen how they’re supposed to happen in order for progress to occur. It’s hard to be completely objective, however, as you get to peek in on their lives before their fate is revealed. You might be forced to watch someone weep over a fallen comrade, or hear someone tell a buddy how great things are going right before you snuff them out. Since the game can’t move forward until you perform the required actions, it often feels like someone is forcing you to meet your own fate. It creates a wonderfully palpable sense of foreboding.
The presentation for this game might not seem initially impressive, but it does a lot with a little. The levels are kind of nothing but a grid of squares with arrows drawn in the middle, but they are designed differently enough to give each puzzle a unique feel. While the humans and objects you see aren’t highly detailed, they are clear and easy to distinguish. Likewise, the minimal use of music and sound effects add to the atmosphere of the game. There are some nifty tunes here, but they’re kept for loading and credits sequences. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the presentation is the musical notes that play as each unfinished level lights up. It creates a eerie music of its own.
Each puzzle is a grid of squares with arrows drawn in them. The controls involve rotating the arrows in order to make characters move in a certain direction. There are three on-screen buttons you can push. One of these move everything forward. Then there’s the undo/redo buttons.
When you push play, each character will act accordingly. Walking characters move one space according to the direction of the arrow they are on, fire will spread similarly, a mad man might prepare to fire his gun, a car might crash into another car, etc. You have a limited number of moves per level, but you usually have well more than enough to get the job done. The undo button moves everything back a tick. However, using this button doesn’t reset any changes you’ve made to the board. Likewise, the redo button will put everything back on the space it was previously. The arrows only change direction when you manually change them. This allows for some fun puzzle solving in later sections when arrows start getting locked into position.
Let’s examine how a basic puzzle might work. On the screen, you see a dude. That dude has a red dot over his head. Over on the other side of the puzzle, you see a tile with a red dot. You smartly deduce you need to get that dude over to that tile. You move your finger on the screen over the tiles to rotate the arrows so that the dude has a clear path. You press the play button a few times, and he gets over there shortly. That’s how it works. However, the puzzles quickly get more complicated. Icons over the head of the people clue you into what is supposed to happen. A colored dot means they need to end up on a certain spot, a cross means they die, etc. Likewise, you’ll have to deal with a number of obstacles. For example, you might need to get a dude onto to the other side of the map without having him get hit by a car, burned by fire, or shot by a madman. Later on, you can see a puzzle where you need to group soldiers together in order to have them all fight down the road. Any early altercation will make the numbers uneven. Yet another puzzle has you using a fireman to rescue downed civilians before a fire burns everything to the ground. The game does a lot with what appears to be a simple concept. The whole time, all you do is rotate arrows and push play. It’s brilliant.
Something that will appeal to the more hardcore of puzzle fans is the way the game introduces you to concepts. You’re never told what something does. Whenever something new shows up, the only way to figure it out is to experiment. For example, one map has what appears to be a generator feeding yellow dots to another machine. All you have to do is get your guy across. However, moving over one of these yellow dots removes them from the board. When the machine misses its expected dose of yellow dot, an alarm goes off. The next turn, deadly gas fills the room and your dude dies. It’s a hands off game that rewards players for trying out new things. The game also doesn’t include a hint system. It might scare off more casual players, but puzzle aficionados will eat it up.
As for the changes, the most noticeable upgrade is the learning curve. Levels have been shuffled around, and a few have been added, that let you ease into a new concept before tackling on the truly tough challenges. Again, the game doesn’t tell you what to do, but this is great for figuring out the more tricky aspects. There are also some more minor changes such as a character saying “oh sugar” instead of throwing out an expletive. It doesn’t really affect how you feel about the game.
Short Attention Span Summary
Norna remains as engrossing a puzzle game on iOS as it was on PC. The new upgrades make this an overall better experience, and one worth experiencing for the measly three or four bucks you’ll have to pay. While it certainly lacks mass appeal, its well worth looking into if you’re a puzzle fan who enjoys more challenging experiences.