In one of the more obscure plotlines I’ve ever seen in a video game, Nuts asks you to watch over the antics of some wild squirrels in a forest. Observe, learn, track and trace. No, this isn’t a bungled app for a pandemic, this is an innovative and strangely addictive puzzle game that enjoys its storytelling ala Firewatch style.
In Nuts you play as a researcher sent to Melmoth Forest with some video cameras, an actual camera and a GPS tracker. The squirrels here are rare and in order to keep the land protected from industry buyers, your research into their behaviour and habitat use is going to be vital. Each mission starts with your caravan and your boss Nina phoning and faxing in your new mark. Once the chats over, your starting point is marked on the GPS tracker and it is out into the forest for a daytime stroll.
The gameplay has two elements to its loop cycle. During the day you place cameras – up to three of them – shooting at various locked off scenes of the forest. At the start of each puzzle you’ll be told roughly where the point them. Then you’ll go back to the caravan to trigger the night time gameplay. Here, you’ll watch a 30 second piece of footage to see if and where your squirrels appear from. Each mission will see you needing to trace their steps and so once you’ve gathered mentally the intel, you’ll switch back to day time to pick up and move the cameras around again. As the forest areas are relatively small, you can use specific landmarks to orientate yourself and your GPS and camera can help too.
Once you find the original points of your marks, you can zoom in on your tapes and print photos out to fax back to Nina who’ll then tell you if you’ve found what she was after. There is no time pressure to get something done in a certain amount of days and so you can be as loose or methodical as you like. It soon becomes clear that the squirrels have some strange behaviour though and that’s what drives the story onwards. You’ll want to know exactly what they are up to and this is told over many chunky reveals as you track their trails. Whilst it isn’t quite as twin peaks as I’d hoped – or thought the story would be early on – it is very fun to ponder on.
I found the gameplay loop really engrossing in a weird way. It doesn’t give you help, it just lets you muck about. That means I was using my brain to remember where the furry friends had come from and where they were going. There is also a nice photo mode to enjoy too. You can stick photos in your journal or hang them in your caravan, creating a personal home. The only mild gameplay annoyance is that you have to pick up and move all the cameras individually. This means you’ll be backtracking a fair bit at the opening of each level to set up your initial positions.
Graphically, Nuts will be marmite. The strong colour palette and visual design mean that the forest has a real character to it. I love that each area has a different palette and that nighttime is subdued. It does help make the squirrels stand out too thankfully. I do think some will switch off from the design though which is a shame. That crazy design doesn’t extend to the music, sound effects and voice acting though as they are all beautifully on point. Similarly, the controls are tight and responsive too. Your parkour skills are very generous for easy traversal of the forest. It is only lakes and water pools that you need to be wary off as if you stand in water with your camera, it’ll warp to the nearest shoreline.
To say more about Nuts would be to spoil the fun so I’ll leave it there. It’s a short game – just the 4-5 hours – but it certainly leaves its mark. An original puzzle spin on the ‘alone with a phone in the forest’ genre of exploration gaming that many will enjoy, you’d be nuts to miss it.
Review code provided by publisher.
Higher Plain Games is part of the Higher Plain Network. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. There are additional perks for supporting me, such as behind-the-scenes content and downloads. You can also share the website or use the affiliate buy now links on reviews. Buying credit from CD Keys using my affiliate link means I get a couple of pence per sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. Thank you.