Developer: Joon, Pol, Muuutsch, Char & Torfi
Release: February 4, 2021
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Also available on: Apple Arcade, Steam, itch.io, Humble
“What are these squirrels up to?”
An hour into NUTS I couldn’t stop asking myself this question. Where are they going? Which way do they go? As a rookie field researcher for Viago University, you’re assigned squirrel surveillance in Melmoth Forest and tasked with placing cameras throughout the forest during the day and watching footage each night to track the movements of the furry animals. This research is critical in the fight against Panorama Corporation, which is trying to buy and develop the land. What ensues is a four-hour surveillance mystery that, despite a few shortcomings in UI and performance, delivers an engaging story wrapped around a unique concept that I overall enjoyed.
You receive assignments by faxing a document to the project director, Dr. Nina Scholz. Scholz is very passionate about this research, as she too was once a field researcher in Melmoth Forest. Each assignment is complete when you obtain the requested images and fax them to Dr. Scholz. After gathering up the camera equipment from outside the research station, you navigate to the last known location of the squirrel marked on your GPS. From there on you’re free to choose where you place the cameras. Return to your Research station and click record on the TV to jump ahead to the night where you watch back your footage. This is where the UI becomes an issue. In order to fast forward, rewind, and pause you have to move a cursor on the screen, which on the Switch I found tediously difficult. The ability to quickly toggle between buttons using the analog stick would have been a bit easier to manage. I also found some of the onscreen button indicators were too small in handheld mode, and I continued to accidentally hit the wrong button. Alas, one you catch the squirrels on camera, you print a photo and fax it off to complete the level.
Throughout the story you will be moved to a new location in the forest. The environments are painted in three contrasting colors, with objects you can interact with clearly sticking out. I’ll be the first to admit I assumed I would be able to charge through the woods and find the end objective, especially when I knew it would be a high contrast color. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how the objectives are designed to be impossible to locate without actually tracking the squirrels. The number of day/night cycles to complete an objective may range from 3-4 or up to 15+.
The sound track is perfect. A eerie mix of ambient trance music and forest sounds, I found myself on edge and expecting combat, despite the fact that the game contains no combat or NPCs. The soundtrack combined with the excellent voice acting for Dr. Nina Scholz helps build the emotion and suspense as the story progresses.
Unfortunately, there was one level where the audio completely cut out. Luckily through the use of my journal and on text narration I was able to follow along and complete the level, where the audio immediately returned and was never an issue again. Hopefully a future update will address this issue (if it wasn’t isolated to my Switch).
Final Grade: B
All things considered, NUTS is a fun game. For me, while I enjoyed the surveillance concept, the UI was just a bit too frustrating. I’d personally recommend they increase the size of all on-screen button indicators to accommodate for handheld mode. However, none of these issues take away from the fact that it’s a fun game. If you’re able to look past the challenging UI and the current audio hiccup, then NUTS provides a challenging and unique gaming experience worth checking out (especially if it ever goes on sale.)