GameplayNoble Nutlings is a physics-based, side-scrolling racing game. Rather than racing against friends or computer-controlled opponents, Noble Nutlings has players guide a cart filled with three squirrels through a course filled with various obstacles, jumps, and slopes in a race against the clock. Tilting the device helps balance the cart and perform spins while in the air, and an accelerate button on the bottom-right of the screen makes the cart, well, accelerate. There’s also a “chili meter” on the screen that can be held down to use chili, which makes the cart go even faster through the course. Beating certain times gives players stars (up to three per level) which are necessary to unlock some of the later levels in Noble Nutlings. Players earn coins based on their in-game performance, which can in turn be used to purchase upgrades for their cart in the form of various wheels and chassis. Some of these upgrades, such as tomato tires and a banana chassis, look pretty silly but fit in pretty well with the goofy nature of the game. Coins can also be used to refill the chili meter, and here’s where a huge problem with Noble Nutlings arises. It’s pretty much impossible to beat 3-star times on some levels without using the chili meter, and at some point, it’s a near-certainty that the player will not have enough stars to unlock the next set of levels. Unless the player is willing to repeat earlier levels numerous times just to get enough coins to refill the chili meter, he/she will have to shell out actual money to purchase coins. While Noble Nutlings is free to download, it uses a rather deceptive business model where it’s incredibly boring and time-consuming to play without spending actual money. Sure, it’s possible, and might even be fun at times, but for the most part getting enough coins to fund one’s need for in-game chili is anything but fun. First of all, the amount of coins needed to buy a full tank of chili (144 coins) compared to how many coins a player might typically earn from any given level (15 to 30) means a player will have to go through 5 – 10 levels of chili-free cart-driving to play one level of chili-supported gameplay. Replaying a level 5 – 10 times might not seem too bad, until one realizes how incredibly frustrating the game can get at times. The game’s tilting controls feel way too sensitive, meaning even the slightest tilt in the wrong direction can send the cart flipping over itself, resulting in a severe time penalty. There’s supposedly some sort of strategy involved in Noble Nutlings (jumping off of slopes at certain angles, tilting the cart a certain way when landing, etc.) but it’s pretty obvious that there’s ultimately no way to beat some of the 3 or even 2-star time goals without the use of the valuable chili boost. While it’s completely understandable for companies to try to make money off of their games, Boomlagoon’s “freemium” approach in Noble Nutlings doesn’t work very well considering the typical “quick-fix” gameplay mechanic that is so well suited to the mobile platform that it is based on.
Story/CharactersNoble Nutlings features no in-game story whatsoever. There’s apparently some sort of comic on the Noble Nutlings website, but it really doesn’t do anything to explain why three differently-colored squirrels are barreling down precariously steep slopes in what appears to be a rickety, makeshift cart. Some sort of pink worm makes an appearance as well, but his/her inclusion in Noble Nutlings is as much a mystery as every other part of Noble Nutlings’ plot. Sure, not all games need a strong background story, but throwing in four characters that feature heavily in the gameplay without providing even the most threadbare of background stories all makes it incredibly difficult to connect to the in-game characters in any meaningful way. One of the squirrels, “Abe”, is apparently “cranky”, “anti-social”, and a “hidden genius”, but there’s no way to deduce this information through anything the squirrels do in the game. In fact, none of the squirrels really do anything at all besides hop into their cart, blink once in a while (presumably in a halfhearted attempt to convince the player that these are living, breathing characters worth caring about), and unceremoniously tumble out of their cart when it crashes. “Pinky” the pink worm (who would have guessed?) comes the closest of all the characters in Noble Nutlings to having a personality, and all he does is get run over by the squirrels in their cart (again, absolutely no explanation is provided as to why this happens), challenge the player to beat his score on certain levels, and stare aimlessly forward like a crazed loon. Besides Pinky, none of the characters in Noble Nutlings can be considered as having even one-dimensional personalities as, well, they don’t have any personality at all.
GraphicsNoble Nutling’s graphics are vibrant, cartoony, and overall derive a lot of inspiration from Angry Birds (which isn’t a bad thing). Tuomas Erikoinen, the main artist behind the feathered protagonists of Angry Birds, is also the artistic lead for Noble Nutlings, so it should come as no surprise that the same quirky, cheerful art style makes a return in this game. The levels in Noble Nutlings are gorgeously drawn, with a seamless mix of 2D and 3D elements blending together to give a nice, polished look to the game. Cart and level animations were consistently smooth throughout, as were the character’s animations (though there weren’t many character animations to speak of).
Just as with the graphics, Noble Nutlings takes heavy inspiration from Angry Birds when it comes to sound. While the sound effects for the squirrels “talking” aren’t exact copies of the ones from Angry Birds, they do sound eerily similar and help set a goofy aural ambience. Navigating slopes results in satisfying clicks and clacks, lending to the impression that the cart that the squirrels are riding isn’t the most road-worthy vehicle out there. Noble Nutling’s background music fits in beautifully with the overall feel of the game, providing a whimsical, fun track to listen to while a bunch of squirrels in a cart are barreling down a hill for who-knows-what-reason.
Noble Nutlings would be much better suited as a paid app rather than the “freemium” model that it currently uses. While gameplay can at times be fun and satisfying, having to repeat levels over and over takes away much of the entertainment value of the game, and having to constantly purchase coins to cover the cost of a resource that is basically necessary to progress in the game quickly drives down the fun factor of Noble Nutlings. A complete lack of any character development for 3 of the 4 characters in the game makes Noble Nutlings an even less memorable game. Noble Nutlings’ one saving grace, however, is its artistic polish, both graphically and aurally.