Combining the need for intense levels of concentration and particularly good hand-eye coordination, Nuclien is a game of fast reflexes and occasional multi-tasking. The game presents itself as being set in an empty void where you (as a DNA architect) are tasked with successfully sequencing the DNA that will become the origin of everything that exists. It all sounds very dramatic but in reality it isn’t important at all; this eShop outing is all about the gameplay.
Using the touchscreen only (Nuclien cannot be played docked), players must tap numbers that appear on the screen while adhering to each level’s time limit constraints. At first, this is incredibly easy; whenever you see a number pop up, no matter what it is, a simple tap will be enough to progress and you won’t struggle with the time limit for each press, either.
Things start to pick up as you move to the next sets of levels, however. The game is broken up into five different sections, each of which has a different rule to follow. Whilst the first set is simply “bash the number as soon as you see it”, you’ll soon be playing levels where you have to tap numbers in order from low to high, from high to low, then a mixture of the two, and eventually a complete mix-up where all the rules you’ve come to know get flipped on their heads.
You see, the numbers are presented in either circles or squares that are either light or dark and, as you spend more and more time playing, your mind will associate all of these shapes and colours with the actions you need to take almost subconsciously. The later levels of the game start to mess with this, though, alternating the meanings of the symbols you’ve come to know and trust.
Despite all of this, Nuclien wasn’t as intensely challenging as we were expecting. In most levels the numbers appear in sequences that, when successfully completed, can restore some of your time limit for the next one. Thanks to this, you should be able to recover from most of your mistakes if you can manage the next few sequences particularly quickly. There are some occasional background distractions to throw you off, and you do need to be in complete, absolute focus whilst playing, but even when you are struggling you can purchase items to assist you.
An in-game shop allows you to spend ‘knowledge’ (a currency of sorts earned by completing levels) on either a ‘Knowledge Bonus’, or a ‘Time Bonus’. These bonuses will grant you extra knowledge earned from each level (to then spend in the shop), and an increase in the time limit for each level respectively. If you keep playing, you’ll soon accumulate enough currency to max out your time bonus to make levels easier. We found that time bonuses weren’t necessary for the majority of the game, but the very final level felt near impossible without any help.
There are a total of 77 levels to play through, each of which last for a minute or two if you complete them on your first go. Of course, the length of the game will depend entirely on how quickly each individual player can get their head around the different shades and shapes. You can replay levels as many times as you like, although we’d argue that once you complete one there isn’t really any urge to go back.
In addition to these main sets of levels, a time trial mode is also present, allowing you to take on a new set of stages in an attempt to clear it in the fastest time. This time around there is no countdown for each move you make; the goal here is to simply tap all of the numbers in whichever order is necessary in the fastest time. This is a nice touch, but a lack of online leaderboards mean that you’ll only ever be competing against yourself, which is a slight shame.
At its best, which is when a level is at just the right difficulty for the individual player, Nuclien provides a very smooth, fast-paced, and satisfying number puzzle experience. The aesthetic is pleasing for the most part, and blasting your way through intricate layouts feels great. With only a couple of hours’ worth of content on offer, all of which is based around the same concept, Nuclien does feel a little bare-bones (although, in fairness, this is reflected in the asking price). It won’t wow or amaze you as you play, but it isn’t a bad way to pass the time, either - especially if you enjoy quick reflex puzzles on the go.