Nocturnal – Review
Follow Genre: Metroidvania
Developer: Sunnyside Games
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Platform: PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Seris X|S
Tested on: Switch

Nocturnal – Review

Site Score
Good: Accessible but challenging gameplay
Bad: Too short for its price point
User Score
(1 votes)
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VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

We can’t help but feel like Metroidvanias are very popular these days, given the sheer amount of new titles that are popping up. That’s both a blessing and a curse, as this means that while there are plenty of titles to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which ones are worth playing. We tend to gravitate towards games that seemingly break the mold, like Pronty or Curse of the Sea Rats, as we’d rather play something original than something we’ve seen done to death. That does mean that sometimes a game that looks like a more traditional take on the genre might slip under the radar. That almost happened with Nocturnal, a Metroidvania from Sunnyside Games that turned out to offer more than meets the eye. As it turned out, Nocturnal was a pleasant surprise in more ways than one. Read on to find out why it’s a shining example of the genre.


As we dove into Nocturnal’s story, we couldn’t help but be reminded of Strayed Lights, a game we reviewed recently that dealt with a very similar theme. Both games let players wield the power of flames, and subsequently, light to prevent a world from fully plunging into darkness. Where Strayed Lights literally lets you play as that flame, in Nocturnal you are instead a warrior known as Ardeshir, who wields the power of a sacred flame against the mysterious Mist. An animated cutscene immediately sets the tone, showcasing that Ardeshir is a capable and experienced warrior. It’s clear from the get-go that this isn’t a story about a rookie that gradually grows to become a hero, which initially felt like a nice change of pace. Unfortunately, although Nocturnal manages to avoid that specific trope, the main story is a damsel-in-distress story, as our hero sets out to save his sister, who has gone missing. While there is more to the story than just that, with small bits of world-building scattered throughout the game, this still felt like a missed opportunity, even if the narrative does what it needs to.


The gorgeous animated cutscene that opens the story sets a high visual bar. The general aesthetics from that scene translate well into the game itself, and Nocturnal manages to continuously impress with its excellent art direction. It’s not the most overly detailed game, but thanks to gorgeous lighting effects and a simple but clean art style, things manage to feel alive. The visuals deliberately avoid being too crisp, with the lighting effects in particular allowed to bleed a little. This takes some getting used to but once it clicks, this approach works well enough. It makes the game almost look like you’re playing through a painting.


While Nocturnal’s soundscape doesn’t really stand out compared to the visuals, this is one of those rare instances where it didn’t bother us. The soundtrack is deliberately understated, and although none of the music is particularly memorable, what’s present here fits the overall feeling of ominousness that you’d associate with the Mist. We would’ve liked it had the music for boss battles in particular carried a bit more oomph, but overall, what’s present here is fine. The game lacks voice acting and sound effects aren’t particularly outstanding either.


At first glance, Nocturnal looks like your run-of-the-mill Metroidvania but Sunnyside Games has incorporated some unique ideas that provide the game with its own identity. Although the game’s foundation will instantly feel familiar, it’s the way that Ardeshir’s flame sword works that sets Nocturnal apart from other titles in the genre. While his sword is ablaze, Ardeshir deals more damage, but he’s also able to heal himself and stay protected from the effects of the ever-present Mist. However, as long as your sword is lit, a short timer counts down. Should this run out, you’ll be without these abilities until you are able to light your sword again by using torches that litter the stages. It’s a mechanic that is easy enough to understand, but it’s implemented in clever ways. Apart from the aforementioned abilities, you’ll be able to open up hidden paths, for example, by lighting the environment on fire. You’ll also run into fallen warriors and you’ll need to incinerate their remains so that they can find peace in Valhalla.

In true Metroidvania fashion, there are plenty of secrets to discover as you gradually unlock new abilities. Throwing daggers that could also be set alight made for an interesting tool to deal with specific obstacles, for example, while also providing an additional tool to deal with enemies. Other mechanics such as an extended jump might feel less imaginative, but they do aid in imbuing the game with a sense of progress, even if Ardeshir is already a powerful character to start with. That actually makes it more impressive just how accessible Nocturnal is, as the learning curve isn’t steep and the game never feels overwhelming, despite the plethora of button inputs and move combinations needed to master the tight platforming. This is a masterclass showcase of satisfying platforming mechanics, and the excellent level designs really drive things home even further. The game provides plenty of challenges too, both through its boss fights and the environmental obstacles that require some thinking to overcome.

If there’s one major gripe we had with Nocturnal, it’s that the game feels overly short. Clocking in at just under three hours, we couldn’t help but feel that the €19.99/$16.99 asking price felt a little steep. Sure, there are reasons to return to the game if you want to discover every secret. Speedrunners in particular will absolutely adore Nocturnal, given how the game is built around optimizing your flame abilities together with where torches are positioned. If you’re a more casual player, however, you might feel like Nocturnal doesn’t quite deliver enough bang for your buck. It’s a matter of quality over quantity though, and it speaks volumes that our only real complaint about the game is that there isn’t more of it. If you go in blind and are aiming to obtain every secret, collectible, and achievement, you might be able to extend that runtime to around 5 hours. That makes for a game that is still relatively expensive, but given how high the quality of the overall experience is, there are worse things to spend your hard-earned cash on.


We absolutely recommend picking up Nocturnal if you’re in the market for a new Metroidvania, although given how short the game is, you might want to wait for a sale. The lack of story depth is more than made up for by the fantastic audiovisual presentation, and the solid Metroidvania foundation is elevated through Nocturnal’s unique flame sword mechanics. Add to this that the game strikes the right balance between accessibility and challenge, and you’ve got a title that stands out in a genre that otherwise feels overdone.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Nocturnal - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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