Just when we thought Gamevil was getting ready to rest on its laurels and hunker down as an App Store RPG and sport sim factory, they go and throw us a curveball in the form of NOM: Billion Year Timequest. In this madcap (and often infuriating) game of quick-thinking and timing, you can ski in the Ice Age, do battle with a cybernetic Venus de Milo, and fight dinosaurs, all with the use of one finger.
Gamevil claims that the game has a coherent plot, so we’ll do our best to piece it together for you. As best as we could tell, you play as monochromatic sprite, NOM, who is driven by a desire to travel through time in a machine he can barely operate. You don’t have a clear objective beyond bouncing back and forth from era to era, dodging baddies and collecting snacks. Along the way you’ll jump on the head of a giant, one-eyed dictator, run through bomb craters, and have a lightsaber battle.
You have angered our king.
As much sense as the narrative makes, the visual style is equally bizarre. Sights and sounds hearken back to 16-bit glory. In general, the gameworld looks like a mash-up of old-school Game and Watch aesthetics and Mushroom Kingdom psychedelia. The soundtrack is a fast-paced, looping series of electronic tunes that bleep and bloop along with the grunts and yelps of the hero. While the game’s audio/visual style initially gave us sensory overload akin to that of a day spent drinking Red Bull and watching the Disney channel, we came to appreciate it.
The gameplay itself is simple in the extreme, along the line of run-and-jump platformers like Robot Unicorn Attack or Canabalt. All actions in Billion Year Timequest are executed with a single tap. Even with such simplicity, though, Gamevil has managed to make playing the game varied and unpredictable. On some levels, you must leap over obstacles, while on others you need to execute martial arts moves or dodge incoming bombs.
What unifies such diverse challenges is the need for lightning-fast reflexes and precise timing. Sometimes, the game prompts you with a large sign instructing you when to tap, but other times you’re left on your own to figure out the exact moment to execute your move.
In our experience, the necessary timing was both twitchy and painfully exacting. One early boss battle, in which we swung from a rope trying to kick a dinosaur in the face, had us sweating, wringing our hands, and cursing in frustration. Another, in which we had to straddle a platform and avoid oncoming balls of electricity, required close to twenty playthroughs before we finally completed it. Add to that occasional, forced screen orientation shifts, and you have some serious stress on your hands.
In the case of Billion Year Timequest, though, the frustration is addictive. We were consumed by the game, and came back over and over again to complete the next level and accumulate snacks (buffs and power-ups). Plus, the game’s short levels and simple gameplay make it ideal for those moments where you have a few minutes to kill. This is a game that can be played absolutely anywhere.
Still, we did find that some of the levels became repetitive fast and may have been longer than they needed to be. After racing through one level’s bombed out crater landscape for what felt like an eternity, we just wanted to move on to the next stage. Likewise, some bosses have long health bars that take 10 successful runs through a level to deplete.
After spending a week with NOM: Billion Year Timequest, we can’t help but feel like the butt of a cosmic joke. How can something so seemingly easy present such a challenge? Nevertheless, NOM is irresistible, and, despite the frustration it creates, we find ourselves going back for more.