A lot of indie games have a certain hook that they hang their hat on whether it’s a graphical style, a compelling narrative or a specific gameplay mechanic. Son of Nor falls distinctly in that last bracket, offering an almost literal sandbox to play in with telekinesis, terraforming and control over a variety of elements. While playing around with the mechanics proves fun, it’s when it tries to become an actual game that everything falls apart.
The lore in the game is pretty strong, but the game throws you in so fast and starts throwing names and places and races at you with such a fast pace at the beginning that it’s easy to get lost. There are two main races in the world: humans and lizard people called Sarahul. Each race worships one of two gods, Lur or Nor. The Sarahul has practically extinguished humanity, with only a small, hidden group living isolated for the last 400 years. When the Sarahul suddenly attack the hidden enclave, it’s up to your character to push the enemy back and discover what suddenly brought the enemy back.
As a Son of Nor, you are imbued with magic. The two basic abilities you start off the game with are telekinesis and terraforming. The puzzles, platforming and combat are all physics-based. You can pick up many objects, including enemies, and throw them. You use this to throw rocks at bad guys, levitate heavy gates and leap gaps. You also can raise and lower the level of sand at will. It’s a cool mechanic that is used brilliantly a couple of times but unfortunately is vastly underused. Over the course of the game you also discover new abilities based off of wind, fire and essence.
Each of these three abilities are situated in Zelda-esque temples that are easily the best part of the game. These temples are mostly about using your abilities to solve puzzles. In true The Legend of Zelda fashion, once you unlock the new ability in each dungeon, the remainder of the dungeon is used to teach you the ins and outs of this new ability. The temples also subvert your expectations with a drastically different style than the rest of the game. Most of the game is based in sandy deserts while the temples, in contrast, are mystical and futuristic.
While the puzzle elements are fun, the combat in the game is pretty atrocious. Early on everything revolves around throwing boulders at enemies repeatedly until they die. If enemies get close, there is literally nothing you can do but run away. This basically devolves into combat that is just kiting enemies around a level until you’ve thrown enough things at them. Once you get the fire power this changes slightly as you can blast them when they get close but it still doesn’t make it fun. The second half of the game also skews very heavily towards combat, which is unfortunate.
Early parts of Son of Nor I would simply describe as unpolished, with janky animations, difficult to understand objectives and laughable dialogue. Towards the end of the game it borders on plain unfinished, with graphical glitches, visible world geometry and instances of the game breaking. The worst example occurred during the final boss, where the game literally fell to a crawl, getting somewhere around 1-2 frames per second – if not worse – forcing me to quit out and restart.
There are some good ideas in Son of Nor, almost all based around the puzzles and abilities. In early sections of the game where combat was limited, I found myself being pleasantly surprised with how much fun I was having. But that fun fades away as the game starts throwing dozens of enemies and boss fights that involve instant kills. I went from truly enjoying the game to just wishing that it would finally be over. That is never a good way to end a game.
SCORE: 4.5 out of 10
A code for Son of Nor was provided to Pixel Related for review