The Sun at Night is a metroidvania game set in a strangely unique setting. You're Laika, the first dog sent into orbit. However, instead of miserably burning along with the ship, you're now a robot dog, joining the Rebel force against the Soviets, who seem to dominate the Earth (and beyond).
I'll give you some time to take that in. Even the game's characters find it strange that you're a talking dog in silver armor. With a gun mounted on your back. Yes.
The concept probably got your interest already, I assume. Execution isn't nearly as great, and I'll try to explain the best I can.
I usually try to describe the games I review on the whole, but that takes up way too much space, and makes for a not so informative review. So I'll just try to sum up the general aspects that make the game succeed or fail as a game, and then make a few longer paragraphs of particular aspects. Presentation
-wise, it's a mixed bag. The bosses were usually pretty nicely designed, but there are several problems with the backgrounds. Some are simply ugly (and low-res), with lots of empty space (that's literally black, at times), but others make a big mistake by making the background and foreground exactly the same color
. The first screen of the game has this problem. It makes it really hard to distinguish platforms from nothing, especially in a 2D game (not 2.5D).
Tied to that, is the fact that interactable and non-interactable objects in the game have no distinction. This means that instead of looking for an actual object when walking around, you'll have to look for a text pop-up. It makes exploration far less interesting.
Overall, is feels very un-polished and reminded me of Valley Without Wind. It's likely a hit or miss. Sound Design
was mixed as well. The sound effects were generic, and not very pleasant
, I would say. The music was pretty good, though! If not misplaced, at times. It was very game-y, like taking old MegaMan style music and giving a slightly more modern sound. It's not as catchy, though. But it's not bad at all!
Combining these two, a problem I've had, was the fact that there was very little audio-visual response
when you took damage or were close to dying. This led to many deaths in the start of the game, because I was simply not aware of how close I was to death.
As a segue, the game felt very weightless
. The controls were a bit floaty, the weapons didn't really pack a punch, etc. etc. It didn't feel very good to actually play, which is unfortunate, as it is one of the most important aspects.
The game itself is mission based. There are 4 missions, and they're pretty huge. You have to follow a main objective, but you'll also find side-objectives. There's a LOT of backtracking in these maps, and you're likly to get lost. Why?
Well, while the game is 2D, the maps connect in a 3D planes, with inumerous intersections between the smaller rooms. The map function is useful, sure, but it takes a while getting used to.
The problem I have with this, is the fact that the maps are needlessly
big. Most of the rooms are there to simply fill the map. There's a lot of empty space, meaningless rooms with a few enemies. This makes the game a lot more boring than it could have been, if the rooms were actually interesting. There's also no fast travel function, which means that you'll have to navigate the complicated maps a lot. To aggravate the problem, the map marks some rooms with a door, but doesn't tell you it's locked. So you might want to just see what's left, walk for 15 minutes, and then walk back, disappointed, because it was simply a locked door (it also happened that some rooms were locked from one side only -- I tried going through one door that was open, and then had to walk for 20 minutes because I couldn't go back the way I came).
In these maps, you'll fight enemies, and explore for Nano Batteries (which you use to buy upgrades), new Weapons, and Ammo. There are also lots of terminals and notes spread across, for you to learn about the story (these prove a problem, however, which I'll talk about later).
You have 3 Upgrade Sections: Utility, Offense and Defense. You can upgrade your speed, get Double/Wall Jumps, get a better Shield, upgrade each Weapon, etc. I liked the upgrade system, actually. It gave me a good sense of progression, and significantly altered some of the gameplay.
There's also a sort of crafting system for ammo and health/shield packs. You have Raw Nano, which you can use to fabricate these. You can also reduce them, if you have more than you need, and use it to get something more scarce. There's an upgrade that makes it more efficient, which is very useful. The problem with this, is that it takes like 3 clicks to reduce or fabricate something. It would take 20 times that number to fully fabricate ammo, for example. It takes a loong time to do this. Especially when you're reducing and fabricating repeatedly (since you get major returns, with the upgrade) to give yourself "infinite" resources. This could be solved with a simple counter
. You could set it to fabricate 20 at once, and there, problem solved. But as it is, it's a very inefficient system overall. But it's good that it's there, I guess.
Last aspect about the mechanics, is the Save System. There are checkpoints spread out through the map (unevenly
so). If you die, you'll have to replay everything from the last time you saved at the checkpoint. This could be fine, but it's not, since they're so far apart. Besides, it's easy to die because you were distracted. So, it leads to even more backtracking. It could be easily solved by saving at when entering a new room, or just manual saves. Or even get you all the way back to the checkpoint, but keeping your progress and collectables.
That's all. Now, what the game did interestingly, it how it wanted to construct its universe, with ideals and views on communism and war in general. This could have been stellar, but...
When you start the game, you're thrown into the rebel camp. The characters there have real personality, despite exchanging very few words with you. But as I said, some seemed genuinely good, and it would have been great to have a component focused heavily on them. But you're introduced to all these characters, and they're never developed. They're only in that first section, and then abandoned.
That's the first problem.
The second, is how it tries to pass its ideology to the player. It's all done through notes and terminals spread across the levels. However, it usually throws terms at you, without giving them proper context. If you're not familiar with communism and the cold war, then you're very likely not to understand 90% of it.
This is important. Context
. You can't explain an ideal without its context or reasons. It will simply fall on deaf ears, understandably so.
Tied to this, is a huge overload of incoherent information. The notes spread across are often disconnected from each other, so you'll just be getting bits and pieces of an overall message, all fragmented. And there's A LOT of them in the game. So, after a while, since the player isn't getting the whole idea, he will simply start filtering through all of those, and closing his mind. I ended up reading most of them in diagonal, as the game went on, because of the sheer amount of text that didn't provide as much use as it should.
This could be helped by compressing the notes a bit more. There were more paragraphs of text it each than was necessary. If there were simply short, concise phrases, the game would have benefited more.
Overall, I think it was an overambitious project. You could see all the great ideas, but they seemed poorly executed and too rushed. Maybe they can solve all these problems in a future game. Because the ideas are there, definitely!