The Nintendo eShop is a weird and wonderful place; some games are absolute gems, some are whatever-the-opposite-of-gems-is, and some leave you with more questions after completion than when you first started. 36 Fragments of Midnight falls into that latter category and, whilst it might work successfully if you’re a Christopher Nolan film buff, in this particular case it leaves the game feeling rather odd. Before we go off on an unnecessary tangent, though, let us explain what the game is all about.
You take control of the protagonist, Midnight – a cute, tiny fellow that resembles a sugar cube - on a quest to track down 36 Star Fragments that have been lost. You are told to return to your starting point once you have found them all and are then set free to explore. The controls are simple: the left control stick is used to move, while the ‘A’ button can be used to jump, or double jump with a second press. After walking off the ledge on which you begin you’ll immediately see your first Star Fragment – and so the journey begins!
Once you have collected your first Star Fragment your task becomes instantly clear. Platforms will come into view all around you with obstacles and more Fragments not much further away – your task is to simply traverse through the spooky surroundings and collect the Fragments without getting hurt. Along your travels you’ll find rotating saws, spike strips, and lasers which move in different ways. Some lasers are on a timer, allowing you to rush through whilst they are turned off, others can only be skipped by when their beam hits a piece of scenery. Unfortunately, though, these ideas are copy-and-pasted throughout the world, meaning that you’ll keep seeing the exact same laser formation over and over. As soon as you’ve figured out how to dodge a laser setup to obtain a Fragment once, you’ll very quickly be able to do it again.
If you happen to hit an obstacle you will see the game over screen and be taken right back to the start; you need to collect all 36 of the Fragments in one run to be successful. On our first couple of play-throughs we made mistakes and, as expected, were taken back to the beginning. Our main problem with the game, however, came on our third run – this time around we collected every Star Fragment and returned home. From here, we expected to be greeted with our next task and carry on the fun – instead we were presented with a small “thank-you” and the game’s ending screen. After a moment of confusion, we realised that it had been 14 minutes since we had first loaded the game and we had already completed it.
There is a small level of replay value thanks to the fact that the game shows you your completion time – because of this you could go back and try to beat your original time by being more precise with your platforming skills and more daring when it comes to obstacles. The problem here is that you’ll be unlikely to feel a need to do this – the game is fine and enjoyable whilst it lasts but it won’t make you itch to have another try.
It is worth noting that the game’s world is procedurally generated, meaning that each time you re-start a run the obstacles, platforms, and Fragments will be in different locations. This works relatively well; on our sixth run we were still noticing new laser formations, but by this point the controls had become second nature and there was no challenge presented by them anyway. The whole thing is a shame because the platforming is generally well designed; Midnight’s movement is very satisfying with a “floaty” (but still precise) weight that makes it feel a little like hits such as Super Meat Boy. If there were more levels and variation on offer, we could have found ourselves with a lovely little game indeed.
Everything looks relatively pretty too; Midnight has a glowing trail that floats along after his movement which is a nice touch and everything else has a simple, but cute, vibe. The soundtrack is not so strong, however – the audio is almost entirely made up of wind sound effects, with just a short piano chime being played when you die. The saws and lasers are silent and there is no background music to be heard, which is unfortunate because the opening screen uses a nice little piano melody.
The game is easy to use across all play methods and is presented to an equal standard of quality across both docked and undocked modes. The simplicity of the controls means that a singular Joy-Con on its side is just as adequate as a Pro Controller, and Handheld mode works just fine too. In fact, the game is perhaps best suited to Handheld mode thanks to its short nature; a couple of quick attempts on your daily commute would work nicely. That is, of course, should you wish to play the game any more than a couple of times.
36 Fragments of Midnight does a lot of things right - a cute protagonist, nice platforming, and an easy to understand objective make it seem like you’re onto a winner. Unfortunately, though, even with its low asking price it is hard to fully recommend a game that can easily be completed in under 15 minutes. It is a shame because there is a lot of promise here; some players may find themselves wanting to keep playing to beat their times but, ultimately, there is only a very small amount of content on offer. Many will have hoped for something more.