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OK, this is the coolest trick I’ve seen in a game this year

Noita is an underrated gem that blends Spelunky with the little-known “falling-sands” genre

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

Did you know there’s an entire video game genre dedicated to particle simulation? It’s called “falling-sand,” and while the name itself probably sounds unfamiliar, its diminutive catalogue achieved considerable fame in the era of Java and Flash. World of Sand. Powder Game. The Sandbox. You know, the sort of games junior high science teachers once relied on to make learning fun.

In most falling-sand games, you get a big, empty 2D space in which to experiment with mixing pixel particles, which represent various substances, like water, oil, stone, and fire. Whenever I play these games, the first thing I do is build a bowl with rock, fill it with oil, then drop a small spark and boom! After doing this another dozen or so times, I fiddle with weirder, less explosive mixtures. The trouble with falling-sand games is, eventually, there’s not much more to do. They’re toys, novel distractions that get easily displaced for something new.

Noita fixes that.

One of 2019’s most underrated games, Noita builds upon the falling-sands genre by layering it over a sturdy, long-lasting foundation: the Spelunky-style roguelike. In Noita, you control a little witch who navigates a series of increasingly deadly caverns. Every pixel within its world is physically simulated. The experiments of precious falling sand games now have purpose, as acidic cocktails, fiery combustions, and cooling buckets of water help you safely (and often not so safely) navigate the world.

Russ Frushtick explains the magic of Noita in great detail in our initial impressions.

But what has really kept me glued to Noita is another thing it shares with Spelunky: many hidden surprises that its community is just beginning to uncover. YouTuber FuryForgerd has been detailing some of these quirks over the past few weeks, and recently documented something particularly special: a gold potion that carves through the game’s entire map until it reaches the final area.

How Fury creates this potion is fascinating in its own right. As he explains in the video, the game has plenty of obvious alchemical mixtures, like using water to extinguish fire or combustion to create smoke. But the game also features “random” alchemic recipes unique to each procedurally generated stage. One of these cocktails creates huge pools of nourishing health. Another is the aforementioned gold conversion potion.

To discover the random mixture of a given session, another player, Zatherz, created a Noita website that lets players plug-in the “Seed” number on the game’s pause screen to learn the the stage’s random recipe. This is how Fury both learns if the golden cocktail is available in a run, and if so, what its unique recipe would be.

At the 8-minute mark in the video, Fury demonstrates the golden power, named the Draught of Midas, by converting a huge tank of goop into gold. Hopping into it like Scrooge McDuck, his currency starts increasing like an odometer in the top right corner of the screen. Then, with a flask of the draught, Fury shows how the concoction will endlessly convert the game’s world into gold, allowing him to tunnel to its final area at the bottom of the map.

I suppose one could argue that this outright breaks the game. But I think it is the game. This the fun of falling-sand games; figuring out the powers and limits of their physics. What’s so wonderful about Noita is how it has given the genre what it needed to grow: a hint of structure, goals, and purpose. You can play up a bowl of oil. Or you can blow up the entire game.

For that, I hope Noita will finally give its genre the name recognition it deserves.

Noita is now available in Steam Early Access.

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