There's a lot of value, to me, in something I can confidently call "a happy little game." Niko [Free] fits the bill, with a cute little dude at its center named Niko who is bound and determined to save the lives of his friends who just so happen to have been doomed to exile in some unknown world that lies beneath the forest.
We've heard all varieties of the backstory before, and surely this is just another of those, but you can't deny that developer Sulake knows what they're doing. After all, they're behind the Habbo Hotel world, and the ten million monthly visitors there is nothing to shake a stick at.
So how have they applied their expertise to Niko? Well, it's a game with a very simple approach, which seems to be a highly successful formula for other winners in the genre. So if you're into that whole Aves with an anger problem thing, you might like this. Niko is an easy guy to control – you have a set of arrows on the bottom of your screen to move him back and forth and a button with his face to make him jump slingshot style (pull it back, see a trajectory appear, and fire away).
That's it. Nothing fancy. Your job is to navigate a series of 30 levels, the first six of which are free to play. You'll need to pony up $1.99 in order to gain access to the other 24, should you be so inclined.
Level design in Niko actually reminded me directly of retro Sonic titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, where you often find yourself flying at exhilarating speed picking up dozens of rings at a time, only to risk the danger of bumping into a beastie you didn't see and losing them all. Niko opts not to include the painful part of this formula, merely letting you use bouncy pads and moving platforms in the air to propel yourself through its worlds.
There are enemies, but they don't really make as much as an appearance until you get a bit further along. It feels like a proper platformer, and while the levels hold challenge, they never feel frustrating to complete, which is one of my gripes with a lot of portable platformers and puzzlers today.
Each level you play gives you the opportunity for multiple ratings, of course, with a total of three stars to earn based on performance and golden disks that are harder to find. A unique addition to replay value is also offered in the form of rewards that can be taken over to Habbo and used there. Badges, trophies, and a special surprise if you rescue all if Niko's friends are all there for the grabbing, so that ought to come in handy if you are already a Habbo member (or are considering becoming one).
Well-made, clever and fun, Niko is definitely a platformer that's worth your attention. If you explore the first six levels for free, and if you find you're hooked, it's pretty cheap to score the rest. Then you can slingshot, jump and fly through the air to your heart's delight.
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