Review by Mr Creosote (2017-09-02)
Grandfather Wando is dying. Marco primarily remembers him as a great teller of fairy tales. Though now, the old man actually claims that it is all true: the fabled land of Nietoom can be reached through a magic portal directly from this very house. Is he already delirious? No, Marco of course takes it all dead seriously and starts searching.
It seems like the makers played a lot of Hexuma: it doesn't stop with the old mansion being a portal to other dimensions; even whole scenes (the postman…) have been taken over. Just that finding the portal and stepping into the other dimension was not the ending of the original, but rather its actual starting point. Whereas Nietoom never really shows this other world: its "saga" ends when the protagonist takes his first non-interactive stroll in the strongly overexposed world behind the door. In other words, the complete game takes place inside the mansion (plus a short scene in front) and none of its plot promises (or allusions) are never fulfilled.
In any case, it is hard to really grasp the game's plot. What about pinpointing it time- and location-wise? Why does the protagonist wear an Edwardian-style suit and walk around in a mansion with appropriate decorations in some rooms without even electrical light, when on the other hand, he fiddles with aluminium foil and knows exactly what a phaser is? Why does the world end right in front of his doorstep? Why is no further interaction with the letter-writing friend of the grandfather or the stranger inside the ruins possible? And anyway, why can't we ever go to the village?
Graphically, Nietoom is a little more convincing. Changing perspectives per room, some of which are actually fairly original when (for example) furniture are put into the foreground, the perspective is tilted or the artists playing with colours, keep the visuals fresh. Controls more or less work, though the number of clicks could still have been easily reduced.
Puzzles are basically alright. Some are even pretty tricky; mostly, the player is occupied with unlocking doors with keys. The absolute low point: a key opens a chest in which you find another key, which then opens a chest in another room. This is a pure waste of time.
Nietoom receives its final blow when you reach its second half. Instead of showing the other dimension, it almost exclusively takes place in the catacombs below the mansion – a large labyrinth full of dark rooms sporting deadly traps which you can only discover by using one of the strictly limited matches. Endless walking back and forth, this is really no fun at all.
This is only bearable if you are looking forward to seeing other worlds. Which never appear, though. And this is where Nietoom simply fails on the quality scale. Not because of tiny issues, which are all there and could be summed up, but never induce too much pain. The point is that game time is generated by totally frustrating ways instead of offering interesting, fresh things. Or to put it into simpler terms: black screens are no fun!
Review by LostInSpace (2019-07-16)
Manual and box already catch the eye of the mystery fan, as – using a lot of dark colours – they summon up a story of magicians in parallel worlds, about magical portals and about a hub called Nietoom. The aura of the phantastic genre is there. The manual also helps understanding the game's starting screen. You find yourself in the bedroom of your late grandfather who, until his death, researched the location of this portal of worlds. The room is shown with a crooked horizon line and the player's avatar is actually nowhere to be seen. Maybe the now missing grandfather is supposed to be symbolic for a world in turmoil. In order to leave the room and to really start your task, you have to – as described in the manual – search the side of the screen until you find a door in the back of the viewpoint. It is only in the next room – the upper staircase of the mansion – that you can actually take a look at the protagonist: a youthful figure neatly dressed in a kind of dressing gown, sporting full, perfectly groomed hair. Though is this prissy grandson the character a Lucas Arts afficionado would like to identify with?
At least you can try out things in this deserted mansion which you may not have dared as a kid. Grandson Marco primarily plays the well behaved model student when, for example, he closes the fridge without a cue from the player if it stays open for too long. Even the house's front door will be closed unless the player does so himself. On the other hand, a candle is left burning unsupervised even when leaving the room for long-ish exploratory trips and also the fireplace is allowed to crackle without Marco worrying about the house burning down. Later on, Marco even turns into a joker and labels a futuristically looking hairdryer as a phaser. Using it, the boy even receives thug life sunglasses. Overall, a very square and stilted character whose visual representation, along with his wooden, unreal movement at least fits the overall picture.
On the trail of mysterious phenomena, Marco takes magical teleporters for granted just as other people would doors. The boy walks through a gloomy maze full of unfriendly blinking cat eyes, completely dark rooms and death traps which could end the game instantly without blinking an eyelid. On a Gigeresque pedestal, Marco – after sinking a sword into it Excalibur-style – finds an alien artefact, using which grants him access to the large grave of an alien civilization which just happens to be adjacent to old grandfather's cellar. Every fan of the X-Files will rejoice at the amount of mystery. Though Marco stays cool-headed and remarks when applying the necessary voltage to open the portal that he has always been good at removing the insulation from cables since he was a child. This section of the game is completely tinted in violet, which marks the separation of the real, logic-based and the mystic, fearsome world.
Inscriptions and slabs with weird characters of a secret language appear in the game, hinting at the story's depth. As a child, I, too, tried to invent my own language with its own original alphabet. So this sparked my interest. Graphical style also retained a somewhat amateurish charme and it shows the fascination of the makers, their pride of having created their first adventure game. The game promises objects which wet the pixel hunter's appetite, but are pure horror for adventure gourmets: extremely tiny, sometimes literally only few pixel-sized objects. The inventory is completely handled through text, there are no pictures to be found. Only few selected objects are visible as graphics.
The developers chose to follow their own path in their efforts to build a user interface which follows a stringent, intuitive logic. Combinations of verbs and objects can always be called directly or extended using the & character. These controls are fundamentally solid and understandable at first glance. Though unfortunately, it takes at least four clicks to actually commit an combination action, to finalize the complete command. Things get really complicated in the later game when it comes to using inventory objects. This list is alphabetically sorted. In order to scroll, you have to click each list object once.
On the plus side, the game includes a well-made midi soundtrack supporting the individual setpieces' moods quite adequately. On the other hand, some more fine-tuning on the programming side could have served the overall game well, as crashes became quite frequent towards the end of the game. On the whole, this is a game which appears semi professional in all respects, but which really attempts to bring a vision to life – even if the nature of this vision cannot really be grasped just by playing the actual game. What you find here is just a sketch, a fuzzy hint at a really good game.
Translated by Mr Creosote