Nom Nation Review—Nommy Dearest

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Growing up in the ’80s, I found educational video games quite common. The Oregon Trail, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Leisure Suit Larry, and so forth. That has apparently disappeared since gaming now seems to be dominated by consoles and handhelds, devices typically not found in schools, except I guess on dedicated educational platforms like Leapster. So it was something of a surprise to see an educational game like Nom Nation get released in the Minis program.

Actually, from the trailer, it is hard to tell that Nom Nation is an educational game. It’s a platformer full of crude humor. It’s developed by Playerthree at the behest of something called Channel 4, which, if I can believe Wikipedia, was the fourth national TV channel on the air in the UK. I have no idea if that is the UK equivalent of PBS or Fox. Based on Nom Nation’s style, it seems like a combination of both, the not-so-subtle humor of, say, Family Guy, combined with the preachiness of Sesame Street.

Chef looks more than a little like a certain doughboy....

Chef looks more than a little like a certain doughboy....

So, I was expecting Nom Nation to be something of a disaster, to be honest. Instead, it’s quite a surprise. While the preachiness is there, as is the not-so-clever humor, at its heart Nom Nation is a very solid puzzle-platformer, where you must figure out how to complete a level, with a good deal of depth.

You control a pixelated chef named “Chef” who must recover 10 pages from a recipe book, in a possibly offensive backstory (it seemingly parodies Eastern religion). Each page is on a separate world or level that you must complete, which in turn unlocks the next level. At the end, you confront the head of the fast food place, which is an evil clown.

The basics are the same as most platformers—Chef moves to the left or right with the D-pad or analog nub and jumps with a press of the X button. He’s not at all floaty like a certain sackboy, and you can control him somewhat while he is in the air. He does have a number of special moves he can do, some as the result of power-ups (he eats food with a press of the Triangle button), others by manipulating objects or the environment (Square button for that).

When you eat something high in protein...

When you eat something high in protein...

Power-ups are gained by eating food. There’s a huge range of foods in the game (it is meant to educate people about food, after all), and they do a lot of different things, like making Chef fat (eating a cheeseburger) or giving him the ability to punch (steak) or even a strong case of flatulence, which can let him fly (I’m just grateful that Sony didn’t incorporate odor technology into the PSP).

These power-ups are required to progress further in the game; for instance, you might have to be fat to break through a bridge (have to also jump from a certain height) which will let you go through an underground tunnel. Or you might have to use the punch ability to knock down a fragile wall. But sometimes you need to interact with the level itself, like grabbing hold of a stunned enemy to glide, or throwing him at other enemies in order to clear a path.

There’s really an incredible amount of things that Chef can do. Along the way, you get advice on just what he can do from helpful rats, chickens, TVs, and cows. When you pass over them, a word balloon pops up and displays information that is generally relevant to what is being introduced on that level.

That's not the only flatulence-related power.

That's not the only flatulence-related power.

Of course, sometimes this advice isn’t as clear as it could be. I got stuck very early on because I was told to drop something heavy on a weakened spot to break through. This seemed to be phrased so as to be misleading, since it’s actually yourself that you dropped (and it wasn’t so much a weakened spot as simply a wooden bridge). They also added a red herring, a throwable object nearby, so it seemed to imply that you should drop it on the bridge. While that sort of chicanery is okay in a game, it shouldn’t be on the first level.

That’s really my only complaint with Nom Nation—it can be maddeningly frustrating at times. You just can’t figure out how to progress, so rather than throw the PSP through the window, you power it down and take a break . . . only to return later and have to go through the whole level until you get to that part you got stuck at to try again. While there is a checkpoint system, it only works until you exit the game. Being able to save a game in progress would have been a godsend.

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Along the way of navigating a level, you want to grab all the food you can, as well as grains of rice (this game’s equivalent of Mario’s coins or Sonic’s rings). As part of the educational nature of the game, at least I guess that’s the reason, you see the food Chef eats in a virtual stomach. The food also affects a virtual heart; eat too much bad stuff, and he gets a heart attack and dies.

Once you finish a level, you get a nice recap. Then you can go into a special level that displays all the stuff in the game you’ve encountered, as well as read more about the foods you’ve eaten, both their in-game effects and their real-life effects.

Graphically, it looks very nice, pixelated by design and very colorful. A lot of times, pixel art games look dull, which is probably more accurate, but ugly to look at. So it’s nice to see such a vivid game. The first couple of levels look the same, but later on, the terrain becomes much more varied. The same effort went into the sound as did the graphics. Catchy music and surprisingly detailed sound effects. I don’t like retro music much, but this is excellent.

Level screen. Unfortunately, no level skip. I got stuck a lot. A whole lot.

Level screen. Unfortunately, no level skip. I got stuck a lot. A whole lot.

Nom Nation is a brilliant and well done but frustrating game. Quite honestly, it’s the most difficult game I’ve played since I started writing reviews here. Generally I can beat (or at least play enough of) a game in a few days, letting me write a review within a week. That wasn’t the case here; even The Impossible Game was less challenging. At least there it was just a matter of practice. Nom Nation requires a lot of thinking, which is exactly what an educational game should do.

9/10

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Comments

22 Responses to “Nom Nation Review—Nommy Dearest”
  1. thumbbandit says:

    Excellent review Jeremy, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to get stuck on the first level. The game reminds me so much of Kirby, eating different things to gain different abilities. ;)

  2. huicho619 says:

    Is it as hard as Trailblazer or Ace Armstrong before the update.
    Great review. I really want this one.

  3. Freelance says:

    Leisure Suit Larry was considered ‘educational?’

  4. thumbbandit says:

    I haven’t played that far into it to answer your question huicho, but I’ll give you my opinion based on how little I’ve played so far. The game isn’t as tough as either of the games that you mentioned, though like Jeremy mentioned a lot of the frustration arises from the vague and misleading clues the game gives you in the form of (so-called) helping speech bubbles from NPCs (non playable characters) scattered throughout the levels. ;)

  5. onmode-ky says:

    huicho619, I don’t think you can compare this game’s difficulty to those games’, since they’re not difficult in the same way. JeremyR, if we compare this to the other Minis puzzle platformers, like Freekscape: Escape from Hell and Mighty Flip Champs! DX, where does it stand in terms of difficulty? Those two were occasionally pretty confounding. Very satisfying when you finally nail the speedruns, though. :)

    I don’t think this game is coming to North America’s PlayStation Store, though. Playerthree’s blog doesn’t say the word “yet” when talking about the game’s North American Minis availability, only noting that we’ll be able to play the iOS versions.

    Freelance, LSL taught me that there’s something called “Spanish Fly.” I still don’t know what it actually is (nor do I care), but it was the solution to a puzzle in the game, according to a walkthrough I looked at when I got stuck.

  6. JeremyR says:

    Yeah, Ace Armstrong was hard in terms of skill, this is more hard in terms of figuring things out. Definitely harder than Freekscape, Flip Champs, Where is my Heart?, or at least I found it to be.

    And LSL taught all sorts of things that I probably can’t mention here. But I did play it in school.

  7. Granpire says:

    I wonder, will this ever get a NA release? This looks very fun.

  8. odd69 says:

    No USA will not have the pleasure to play this. Out all all the minis that i wanted, i had to pick this one to want. Oh and OF COURSE it isnt coming to america.

  9. onmode-ky says:

    Well, heh, if you want to ease your pain with a puzzle-platformer that is exclusive to North America, try WayForward’s excellent Mighty Flip Champs! DX. :)

  10. huicho619 says:

    I think Mighty Flip Champs! DX is the only mini that is not in Europe.

  11. thumbbandit says:

    In reply to your post huicho, there are quite a few minis that the US have that we in Europe don’t… and vice versa.

  12. thumbbandit says:

    Ancient Game Treasures: Mill
    Burnin’ Rubber
    Days of Thunder
    Digi-Tiles
    Earthshield
    Top Gun

    Just 6 of the minis the US have that we in Europe don’t. :(

  13. odd69 says:

    All those 6 games suck. You guys arent misssing out on much. But Im getting this game even if it means making a europe account and buying a over priced euro psn card. I will get my way.

  14. onmode-ky says:

    I’d say Burnin’ Rubber is an arcade classic for many, but the rest of the titles on that list do leave something to be desired.

  15. huicho619 says:

    The only good game Europe is missing out on is Mighty Flip Champs! DX. We are missing out on…
    I Kill Zombies
    Nom Nation
    Karoshi
    Tiny Hawk
    LA Gridlock
    Ambassador Kane
    Those are 6. Look at the difference. And you are only missing out on Mighty Flip Champs! DX on the PSP. You can still get it on the DSI and 3DS.

  16. huicho619 says:

    Numba and Skyforce also.

  17. huicho619 says:

    Arcade Pool & Snooker from Icon
    Championship Manger 2010 from Square Enix

  18. onmode-ky says:

    Sky Force is in the North American PS Store. I’m sure of it, because I have the game. :) Was disappointed in it, though, because its retro styling attempt ended up being very generic retro. It really isn’t very memorable. In my evaluation of it, I wrote, “It’s unfortunate when a stage where you’re not shooting anything stands out far more than any of your climactic boss battles.”

    Arcade Pool & Snooker isn’t in North America because its bigger, non-Minis brother is; Pool Hall Pro is more or less a larger version of it.

  19. huicho619 says:

    Oh, silly me, I never saw it.

  20. JeremyR says:

    I wish Numba would come out here – in retrospect, I probably should have given it a higher score.

  21. sniper712 says:

    finally somebody speaking sense… Karoshi where art thou? and where’s i kill zombies???

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