Atmosphere holds a lot of weight to a game's appeal. Case in point: for all the popularity of gritty military shooters and edgy, hyper-realistic open world games today, there seems to be a sizeable demographic of players wearied by the very thought of jumping into these genres. Beyond disinterest in their gameplay, their lack of enthusiasm is possibly because these experiences — many of them mired in dark post-apocalyptic gobbledygook and filled wall-to-wall with non-stop kinetic action — don't reflect environments they'd actually like to spend a lot of time in. Just like film, slow and quiet moments have their place in gaming: they help us reflect on and appreciate what the developers have created for us.
Petite Games, the team behind physics-based puzzler Midnight, obviously knows a thing or two about atmosphere. The picturesque environs in which you'll be tossing around the titular glowing square are a fantastic example of minimalism in art design, and a soothing piano provides the perfect accompaniment to your activities. But with these successes come a few little missteps that hold the game back from its full potential: aggravating glitches and some odd level design choices can occasionally turn this experience from lovely escapism into frustration.
Odd as it sounds, "physics-based golf puzzler" seems to fit the bill quite well in describing the gameplay style here. Your objective in every stage is to get the glowing "square-shaped fairy," Midnight, from its starting position to a sparkling hole usually on the other side of several obstacles and bottomless pits. You do this by dragging the stylus across the touch screen to determine its trajectory, then let go to see if your calculations add up. Depending on how many "strokes" it takes to get Midnight in the hole — against a predetermined number, much the same way a "par" works in golf — you'll be awarded a score of one to three stars for your completion of the level.
This system works well for the most part. Most levels offer more than one solution to the projectile-based puzzles, making it quite fun to try for the most efficient method. Better yet, the game allows you to quickly recover from fatal mistakes with a single tap, sending poor Midnight from a pile of pixie dust to a square ready for action again. Like any good puzzler worth its salt, a number of interesting new obstacles and gimmicks are introduced regularly to keep things fresh, from flippable switches to chaotic bouncy platforms. And though the campaign may be short, the developers continue to find tricky new ways to use terrain and the aforementioned gimmicks to keep you on your toes.
Unfortunately, smart design doesn't extend to every aspect of your trip through the 28 stages. Make no mistake, the majority of Midnight is satisfying to complete, but there will probably be times you find yourself ready to throw the GamePad in frustration. Take the seventh level, for example, which is one of the few levels in the game that doesn't allow much wiggle room for getting to the goal. In this stage, where the hole is directly above you from the start, the best way to reach the end is by way of an absolutely tiny platform sitting diagonally across from the square hero. Unfortunately, the precision required to land on said platform is maddeningly specific. It's far too easy to overshoot and undershoot the mark, and you'll die plenty as a result. The next level, by comparison, is almost impossible to fail.
This indicates some issues in the balancing of Midnight, which does require you to go through each level in a linear fashion. If the levels were stacked in order of difficulty, or perhaps all unlocked from the start, this wouldn't be worth mentioning; yet sadly, you may find yourself stuck on an early level, only to clear the next few with relative ease. Beyond that, the odd glitch — which usually involves the poor square-fairy getting stuck on inclines, forcing you to reset the level — can dampen your enjoyment slightly. Many players will have a great time regardless of these issues, but it's important to note the potential ire one might draw from some of these problems.
Midnight has a solid concept, wonderfully minimalistic art design and soothing music. It's a bit of a shame these delightful elements come alongside some frustrating design problems, from the occasionally short-sighted level design to some balancing issues with the challenge involved. Still, players looking for an atmospheric puzzler with some inventive gimmicks should find plenty to enjoy with most of this title, regardless of these hiccups.