Those squirrels are up to something…
When I say NUTS popped out at me, I quite literally mean that; take one look at its aesthetics and I’m sure you’ll feel similarly. But then throw in something silly-sounding like a “squirrel surveillance simulator?” I’m not sure I really have a choice in the matter — I had to have this game. Developed by an international team of indie devs from Reykjavik, Montreal, Copenhagen, and Berlin and published by Canadian publishing house Noodlecake, NUTS presents a minimalist face with eye-catching color but hides an atmospheric experience with sinister undertones. (Insert obligatory sentence about the game being NUTS here.)
In NUTS, players take on the role of a brand new researcher assigned to a remote area of Melmoth Forest. You see, a corporation wants to start construction in the area, but Viago University has to confirm that a protected species of squirrels won’t be threatened by the project before it begins. And so, they’ve hired said brand new researcher to prove that the area must remain undisturbed to allow these squirrels to live in peace. Players will spend the majority of their time trying to catch squirrels in the act of being squirrels — doing squirrel things, eating squirrel foods, holding important squirrel conferences, hoarding squirrel ammunitions — you know how it is.
As you can probably tell, things aren’t all what they seem in NUTS — something is definitely happening in Melmoth Forest, and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it. To do this, you’ll need to spend your days moving cameras around to track the squirrels going from their nests to their stashes; by night, you’ll have to review the tapes and figure out where to position your cameras next. It’s this cycle of exploration, surveillance, tracking, and discovery that defines NUTS, which, coupled with the color scheme, reminded me immediately of In Other Waters. Who knew traipsing around the woods, meticulously trying to capture the perfect photos of squirrels for weeks on end could be so interesting?
Controls were simple enough, as it’s mostly just WASD to move and mouse to manipulate cameras and work the other equipment. The environments were delightful to walk through, as they were big enough that exploration felt possible yet cozy enough to get a grasp on within the first few days. I genuinely enjoyed the vibrant color palettes, which really brought the desperately needed energy to the game. The visuals were equally matched by the audio, as the soothing sounds of nature and ambient music set a relaxing scene that made for a calming gaming experience.
One thing I really liked about NUTS was the fact that puzzles were not based on skill nor brain-teasers, but observation. You start by placing cameras in specific points, watch as the squirrel moves off camera towards the left or the right, move the camera further along its path, lather, rinse, repeat. The levels are designed in such a way that, if you explored absolutely every nook and cranny, there is a chance you can stumble upon the end goal, but it’s pretty unlikely, meaning you will spend your time properly utilizing the mechanics and incrementally tracking the squirrels. I just found that to be a really unique way of puzzle-solving that I am not sure I have seen before, and to have it work so perfectly in the context of conservation was delightful.
NUTS has so much going for it, but one thing I struggled with was getting into it, surprisingly. I was so relaxed, even at the beginning of the game, that I got sleepy and had to stop and take a nap before truly starting. After the second or third round of squirrel hunting the energy definitely picks up, but I can’t recommend starting this game if you’re sleep-deprived… unless, you want to sleep, in which case plug this bad boy in. Additionally, I have some gripes with the story that I won’t mention here (spoilers and all), but these issues really aren’t enough to detract much from NUTS as a whole. The design is unique, tight, and interesting on all levels, and I really wish more puzzle games could attempt even half of what NUTS accomplished here.
NUTS is an attention-grabbing title in both style and concept that will simultaneously soothe and intrigue puzzle-solvers looking for a unique challenge. Solving the mystery of the squirrels in Melmoth Forest is utterly dependent on your surveillance capabilities, and it’s entirely possible your life will depend on it. If you want a puzzle game off the beaten path with increasingly-rising stakes and great aesthetics, you absolutely cannot go wrong going down the squirrel hole that is NUTS.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch, iOS, PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Noodlecake; Developer: Joon, Pol, Muutsch, Char & Tofi; Players: 1; Released: February 4, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of NUTS provided by the publisher.