Where are the secret squirrels hiding their Nuts?
I’ll be honest, the first thing that caught my attention about Nuts wasn’t the hilarious name (if you’re as woefully immature as I am), but the incredibly striking art style. It’s near impossible to scroll past sets of autoplaying trailers without this one catching your eye thanks to its low-texture but the high-contrast style of graphical design. Once hooked in by that, you’ll find an interesting, engaging, and enjoyable first-person puzzle game with a story of endangered squirrels living in a forest.
You play as a nameless researcher sent into the fictional Melmouth Forest having been commissioned to study the local squirrel population due to a major corporation looking to begin construction in the area. Should the forest be free of endangered wildlife, the company can begin construction, but if evidence of protected species can be shown then the forest will remain untouched. It’s a fairly simple setup for a story, but before long it starts to seem as though the squirrels you’re studying understand far more than you might expect. I won’t spoil any more of the story as I feel this is something that you should go into fairly blind, but I did enjoy making discoveries and building up the back story through finding hidden collectible cassettes.
The gameplay itself plays out as something of a set of trial and improvement puzzles. In each of the six chapters, your boss normally tells you to photograph the squirrel’s nest — or drey, as I learned! — and gives you a starting point for finding it. You’ll then need to set up your three cameras to record footage which you’ll then work through in order to find where the creature was coming from. After each session, you’ll need to move your cameras to gradually track them to their home before finally getting a photo to send to your boss.
Whilst this might sound tedious, I found it really rather relaxing. Spooling through the footage doesn’t take too long, and at most you’ll need to pay attention to the point at which you lost sight of the little critter so you know where to set up for your next attempt. The developers manage to keep things fresh too, as each chapter in Nuts changes things up just enough to stop that feeling of repetition setting in. Sometimes you’ll be using your cameras, others you’ll be pursuing squirrels on foot. I didn’t get to the point of the game feeling stale. Each day will take you five to ten minutes, and the whole chapter will take at most three-quarters of an hour. In fact, the whole game only took a little over three hours.
The presentation is lovely thanks to that aforementioned art style. Each part of the forest has a different combination of colours which are always very stark. This not only gives Nuts quite a unique look — the only game I could think of that it reminded me of was Virginia — but also highlights areas of importance such as interactive objects or collectibles. Then there are the squirrels which are just adorable as well as being really well animated. When you’re able to see them up close you can see a lot of little details in how they move that demonstrates a lot of care that’s been put into their design. There’s no music during the game as such, but there’s plenty of lovely ambient sound as you wander around the forest, as well as some very nicely done voice work, if only from a single person.
The only real downside is that once I was done, I didn’t really feel the need to go back and play again. Whilst there are a few collectibles, they were fairly easy to find, and the only other reason to go back would be for achievements in the Steam version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — a one-and-done game can be just as enjoyable as one you return to again and again — but I feel like there’s space to explore a little more here. Perhaps some sort of randomly generated mode in which you need to find multiple dreys, or a timed mode in which you have a limited number of nights to find them. What’s there is great, but a little more would be nice.
Nuts is a very pleasant, relaxing puzzle game that won’t tax you too much whilst giving you a nice experience. Its unique art style and well crafted environments are a visual treat, and the story will push you towards its conclusion. It’s well worth your time in the woods, even if it is brief.