(NOITA is out now on PC. Distributor provided the review code.)
NOITA won me over within seconds.
You play as a witch (Noita in Finnish) who decides to pursue a magical altar of power. Said altar is somewhere deep in the bowels of the Earth, and getting there is no picnic. NOITA starts you off at the mouth of a cavern with zero indication of what to do. Whatever happens next is entirely up to you.
I, a man of culture, instantly waved my wand around to see what would happen. A stray bolt hit one of the lanterns in the ceiling, causing the chain holding it to snap. The lantern immediately dropped on my head, cracked open, and set me on fire. I was dead.
Once I stopped laughing, I knew there and then I would love this game. After numerous attempts, failures, and victories, that feeling has solidified further. It’s a wild, wacky, and endlessly inventive roguelite that is among the years best games.
Apart from the vague goal of finding gold and altars filled with power, NOITA tells you absolutely nothing about itself as you set off the first time. At times, this proves frustrating as you fumble with spells and wands that change on every run. The amount of times you will get your robed butt handed to you by a wide variety of monsters is colossal. Even the names of the beasts you encounter are bullheadedly obtuse. They’re all in Finnish, umlauts and all, meaning if you don’t speak the language, you’re out of luck. It’s purposefully obtuse and weirdly gives the game a more otherworldly feel to it. Even as I speak the language, I found myself consistently surprised to encounter it in the depths of the planet.
Because NOITA explains nothing, it means that everything is possible. Wands, for example, are almost entirely customizable, and it’s through trial and error that you find out just how much. Between levels exist rest stops in ancient sanctuaries, where the player can move properties from one enchanted item to another. Found a wand with rapid-fire but a weak damage rating? No worries, just take the fireblast from another rod and mix it in. Beware, though, as fire, explosions, acid, and whatever comes out of said wand will hurt you as well. NOITA is chaotic above all else.
The world of NOITA splits into distinct biomes, each below one another, as you traverse deeper into the earth. Reaching a new land feels like a minor victory each time, as every inch of progress requires the utmost care and luck. Before I even got to the third biome, I had died upwards of 20 times. Sometimes out of foolishness, others by being swarmed by shotgun-wielding dwarves.
Visually it’s pleasing to look at, with a charismatic and fun pixel art look that makes the world easy to navigate at every turn. The soundtrack is understated to not distract from the gameplay but also funky enough to enjoy during lulls. The lighting engine gives away just enough detail without torches or fire to make sense of the paths ahead, but it’s when the explosions start to happen that it ramps up to something special.
The main draw is the unparalleled Falling Everything Engine, which simulates every single physics as they work in real life. Water behaves like water, gas like gas, and the fire is most definitely fire—every tiny detail matters. It is, pun intended technical wizardry of the highest order.
During an early spell casting duel with an enemy, one of my bolts accidentally hit a potion sitting on a mantle. In any other game these pickups are static, as they’re required for the quest. But in NOITA, my bolt pierced the invaluable bottle, causing the liquid to spray out, which quickly covered the cramped corridor. I haven’t seen anything like it before, and it’s among the numerous instances that NOITA happily, almost giddily, surprised me.
The science behind the physics is fascinating and merits its shoutout. Even things like “basic” thermodynamics are present! NOITA has so much going on under the hood that learning about it is as rewarding as the gameplay.
More importantly, NOITA understands the same driving principle that propels classics like THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: exploration is fun beyond all else. Even when you fail, you’ve learned something new, and most games fail to replicate that divinity. But, in its minimalism, NOITA achieves the perfect balance between gameplay and narrative. The simple goal leads to more remarkable stories because they’re the ones you make along the way. Like in BREATH OF THE WILD, the world becomes a playground of invention, one where anything and everything can and will happen.
It’s the most fun I’ve had with a game all year.