Up until now, I’d never really considered that wildlife photography might be one of the most meticulous jobs out there. Tracking your target by setting up a series of cameras the animal may not even walk past has to be an enduring process. Trying to capture a little critter such as a squirrel must take an insane amount of patience. As the surveillance mystery game NUTS demonstrates though, this process is quite exhilarating and founded on uncovering the weird mysteries of nature.
This isn’t your traditional first-person shooter
NUTS’ plot is just that…nuts. It’s about nut hoarding squirrels and the other crazy stuff they scavenge. You, a newly recruited photographer, are sent to Melmoth Forest to capture and record images of its rodent inhabitants to prevent the Panorama Corporation from paving paradise and putting up a parking lot. As you soon discover though, the family of squirrels are up to some mischief of their own and by then you’re hooked, wondering what this is all building to.
There’s some excellent stringing along and escalation within the overall mystery that only gets stranger the deeper you’re pulled in. Nina, your mentor and previous photographer, is really well acted – particularly for someone that exists purely through a telephone. She provides a nice stable voice that slowly erodes as Panorama tries to do what all corps do and ruin absolutely everything for just a couple of bucks. I’d like to say more about the plot but it’s so short, sweet and odd that you really have to experience it for yourself to understand the enjoyable oddity it exudes.
Busting a nut-based mystery such as this one involves two parts: clever thinking and intuition. Gameplay is, as I imagine, simulating the daily toil of a wildlife photographer. Here, you’re effectively solving a series of freeform puzzles chapter by chapter that have you placing multiple cameras around a forest to record the rodent thieves throughout the night. You must then trawl through your footage and follow their footsteps to find your furry friends’ nuts.
My SquirrelAnon conspiracy theory is coming along nicely
As alluded to earlier it’s a process and an enduring one at that. NUTS is at its best when it’s forcing you to consider the strategic placement of your cameras for the day. For instance, you’ll have to choose whether you should be more conservative with their placement to accurately ascertain the path the squirrels take or go for broke in a wide coverage approach, knowing that you may lose the trail in the blank spaces between your three cameras.
However, depending on how nosey you might be, you may find the answers in some chapters without having to really do the tracking and recording part of gameplay. This can be somewhat of a letdown but is combatted wonderfully by having differing objectives and landscapes in proceeding chapters. I especially love the latter chapters that flip the dynamic by having you snap images at specific times or go on a wild chase in the middle of the night like an absolute loon, it’s great.
Despite all the background chaos, Melmoth Forest is a serene place. Contrasting purples, greens, blues and yellows give the woodland reserve a vibrant lo-fi look when pitted against the low-poly modelling outlined in white and filled with unassuming darker tones. Colour is such a strong component of NUTS, not only in the way it helps differentiate the chapters (in both day and night), but all the objects and wildlife too. It really helps in establishing a level of readability as well as weaving narrative undertones.
Recording my camera to be sure I get the shot
Swathing everything that’s interactable in a thoroughly noticeable bright orange/red isn’t unique here, but is nonetheless crucial in highlighting the specific things you need to use. After all, this is game about observing nature, keeping it simple stupid maintains the excellent pacing when trying to find your tools or tracking your objective. I also like the subtle quality of man’s impact on the forest being colourised through putrid browns and hangover-piss yellows – a disgusting quality for sure, that brilliantly says what it needs to. Accompanying the lo-fi vibe is a lovely atmosphere composed of shifting tones that range from peaceful swaying of nature’s breath to ominous, foreboding music and the lighter shades in-between. It’s quite effective at drawing you in, particularly when all there is to do is cycle through a recording at night, and press some clunky buttons while rain patters the rooftop. So cosy, such ASMR.
As for technical issues, there was never anything completely game-breaking in the short three to four-hour journey. I came across small areas where out of bounds sections are accessible (namely in Chapter 5), or minor clipping issues like being able to grab objects through the caravan’s walls. These are mostly negligible unless you’re actively looking for them though. The most affecting bug occurred on reloading the game whereby my journal was blank and therefore I had no idea what to do beyond my own memory. What was my objective? Ah yes, take a picture of the damn squirrel. Restarting the chapter through the main menu did resolve this issue though, with no progress lost so again fairly minute in the grand scheme of things.
I swear this isn’t horror game but ooooooooooo why do I feel like I’m going to die
There’s so much to love and crack open with NUTS, where its simplicity lends itself so well to any type of player. The freedom in capturing on film the critters brings out your creativity in an unexpected way, especially if you want to take nice pictures. A fog of mystery surrounds this squirrel family and it serves well in hooking you in. On top of that though, it’s the colour palette and soothing atmosphere that really create such a bewildering sense of place in a land so abstract. Calling this game a mixed bag (of nuts) would be dumb. It’s clearly a Queensland Macadamia, the greatest all of nuts, from the greatest of all states.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Joon, Pol, Muutsch, Char & Torfi
- Nintendo Switch / PC / iOS
- January 22, 2021