Release Date: 19/11/2015
Played On: PS4
Available On: PS4
Time Played: 1h 13m
Progress: 100% Complete
Developer: Gammera Nest
Publisher: Gammera Nest

If paintings ever came to life and you were able to walk around in their world, I imagine it would be pretty close to what Nubla proposes. Even the shortcomings of this student game could be realistic downsides to a painted world that probably doesn't work the way you'd expect.

Starting out there are all these weird painted children running around a museum, but it's a low-rent museum on account of all the paintings being blank. Not to worry though, as you're entreated to follow one of the children into a painting where puzzles and adventure await. By exploring their world and solving puzzles, you will eventually refill the museum with paintings and restore some kind of balance… or something… there's an elephant as well.

None of that matters though, because whatever abstract story Nubla is trying to tell was lost on me. I'm not one for looking deep into art for literal meaning; I'm happy to sit with an emotional response or first-glance interpretation of a scene. While Nubla tells an abstract story through small bits of dialogue and discovery, the real accomplishment is an artistic realisation of a concept.

It's hard to escape the fact that Nubla is a student game, which forgives the flaws quite easily, but there are still flaws. The basic 2D movement controls are clunky and the game doesn't like it when you press too many buttons at once. Sometimes you have to crouch to pass obstructions, but you need to stop moving, then crouch, then start moving again for it to work. Holding down a movement button while trying to do anything else is unresponsive and frustrating, but with perseverance, you can easily make it through.

Occasionally the beautifully painted scenes will blend together a bit too much and it can be hard to tell the difference between background and foreground. I spent some time stuck in an area that was easily passable, if only I had noticed a rock that appeared to be part of the background, but was actually the way forward.

It got me thinking about adventuring into the world of paintings and what that would be like. Perhaps movement would be hindered and disjointed, the world was never created with movement in mind after all. Living in 2D might present its own complications that mean sometimes you get the Z axis confused and walk right past the thing you need without ever noticing.

Surely within the world of an artistic creation, any amount of abstraction is not only acceptable, but expected. Impression and interpretation would be more of a constant force than gravity or time. 

How would an acrylic painted world differ from an oil painted world?

My mind wandered through these surreal concepts as I worked my way through the simple puzzles and platforming of Nubla. By the time the adventure was complete, I had reached an uneasy understanding of its painted world.

I'm still not sure what Nubla is 'supposed to be' about, but like a good painting, I don't think that matters. Along the way I found a resonance that sat well and by the time I was done, I felt like I'd spent some time in a gallery, soaking up other people's creations. Is there really a better feeling to invoke than that of creative saturation?!

Nubla may not be an artistic masterpiece or a gaming marvel, but it's a finely competent student project that holds a lot of promise for the future.

Still not sure what the elephant means… and that's awesome.