With a title like htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, this latest PlayStation Vita puzzle platformer seems like a strange fit for the Western market. However, niche publisher NIS America has made its name by bringing quirky little curios overseas, and Sony's handheld is certainly a haven for the unusual. The game sees you controlling fireflies – but is it any good?
You'll spend your time here saving a young girl who's lost her memory. You'll start off with very little information on what's going on in the world, and why it's such a death trap. The aforementioned firefly represents a kind of "guiding light", and dragging your finger across the screen will show the lead character which way you want her to go. There is, however, another firefly that lurks in the shadows, which is activated by tapping the rear touchpad. The twist here is that this purple firefly can only travel through dark areas, so in order to reach certain locations you must find a way to connect the gloom.
Many of the game's puzzles are solved by interacting with parts of the environment using the fireflies, by either activating buttons or collapsing some sort of wall to crush enemies. Adversaries not only represent spinning blades, but also shadow creatures that will eat the little girl's silhouette up. Boss fights, meanwhile, consist of many of the same types of enemies – but much larger.
The problem is that the movement mechanics are absolutely abhorrent. You need to drag your finger across the screen all of the time, as simply tapping where you want the firefly to appear isn't enough. To make matters worse, the girl moves at the pace of the slowest of turtles – it's all so lethargic that getting about feels like a chore.
The story is unravelled as you progress, and the further that you go, the more that you get a glimpse into the girl's past. Each new revelation offers a glance into what was once a good life, and the mystery that it builds is quite compelling. The environment is similarly engaging, and you'll want to learn how it came to be. It's just a shame that uncovering these secrets is so maddening.
As an example, the puzzles demand unreasonable precision and timing. The camera is close, for starters, and rarely lets you see a conundrum in its entirety, while the aforementioned movement speeds make exploring larger puzzles a real chore. It doesn't help that the touch controls mean that you'll often be obscuring most of your view, though you can switch to an analogue control setup if you prefer. What's worse is that the puzzles hinge heavily on trial and error, denying the game of that all-important 'aha' moment.
You'll be dying aplenty while you search for the solutions, though – in fact, the inclusion of a Trophy for biting the dust 100 times seems to encourage it. This would honestly be fine if you always felt like you were in control, but the majority of your deaths will not stem from a lack of skill, but the wonky inputs and poor design.
Of course, the alluded boss fights ramp up this irritation to astronomical levels, as they demand, again, a level of accuracy that the controls simply can't provide. One early boss fight in particular has you going through a narrow maze with tight turns, and you must do this without connecting with the borders. Oh, and you need to do it quickly, too. Have fun!
If you have high blood pressure and the doctor has recommended that you avoid stress, then this is a bug that you should swat without a second thought. htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary has an interesting story and some decent art, but the touch controls and trial and error puzzles make it a hateful affair – and the analogue stick options only improve things marginally.