Posted by Kelvin Green
Weird things are happening on Planet Nebulus.
Nebulus (known as Tower Toppler in the US and Castelian in its NES and Game Boy incarnations) is another title from Hewson that is memorable largely due to its idiosyncratic presentation. The game is particularly noted for its striking visual design, and justifiably so, as it takes the basic structure of a platform game, and with a simple twist (pun not quite intended), creates something quite unique.
Instead of scrolling horizontally like most other platformers, Nebulus puts the player's sprite (an engaging frog-like creature) on the outside of a tower festooned with platforms, which then appears to turn on its axis as the player moves and the "camera" keeps the sprite in the centre of the screen.
Such an eye-catching and innovative effect is just the sort of cleverness for which the publisher is so fondly remembered, but on the other hand, some of the enemy sprites are the rather unimaginative blobs and shapes also common to many Hewson titles of the era, and they undermine the visual style just a little.
Such impressive visual trickery is worth nothing if the game itself is naff, of course, and Nebulus does fairly well in this regard too. That unique visual design has knock-on benefits in terms of the gameplay, as the spiralling paths around the towers allow the player to see a number of steps both ahead and behind, allowing for a level of forward planning not often seen in platform titles, particularly of this vintage. Such planning is vital, as the tower layouts are quite complex right from the start, and only get more so as the game goes on, making a careful approach to the platforming quite essential.
If anything, the levels are perhaps a bit too complex; Nebulus is not an unforgiving game, but it is one that rewards, nay demands, patience, as it is quite easy to burn through your initial complement of lives, multiple times, while trying to master the individual towers. Between levels, a submarine shoot-em-up minigame is a welcome bit of variety, and the relative ease of these sections goes a long way to balancing out the difficulty of the main game.
In terms of sound, the game is considerably less impressive, as the memorable theme tunes and sound design seen in other notable C64 titles are conspicuously absent here. The main theme is an unimpressive ditty seemingly left over from a Saturday night game show, and the sound effects are functional at best, although on the other hand, constant noise throughout those tricky tower sections might well have been the final straw for some, so perhaps the relative silence is a better choice!
All in all, Nebulus is a solid game boasting the groundbreaking innovation and unique design one expects from Hewson products, but the gameplay, although certainly catchy, may perhaps be a little bit too unbalanced for some players to properly enjoy. It's certainly not a bad game, but it's definitely one for the more patient and determined gamer.