Whether it's having the opposing forces obligingly wait for you to issue your next command in an all-out war, or allowing you to slow down time and pop off headshots in a gunfight, when video games tinker with time it's almost always to empower the player.
In Nova-111, however, things are slightly different.
Taking a pinch of turn-based and mixing with a sprinkle of real-time, this puzzler makes time itself - that unerringly predictable and unstoppable force dragging us all closer to death - something altogether more erratic.
You play as a charmingly boxy little spacecraft - seemingly sentient, or at least unmanned - whose team of scientists has been strewn across the galaxy in some non-specific incident on some non-specific mission. In space.Wait your turn
You lurch jerkily across grid-based alien landscapes on a retrieval mission, governed as you are by a turn-based existence.
For the most part, enemy movements and attacks are limited in the same way. They come in various flavours - some exploding, some dashing at you, some firing projectiles - but they can only move when you move.
Stacking the odds even more heavily in your favour, you are given fair warning when an enemy is gearing up to attack, not to mention having abilities including a short-range laser beam, teleportation, and the ability to pause time.
Any one-on-one encounter would be a cakewalk, then, but this is where Nova-111 gets more interesting.Time on your hands
It likes to crowd you with enemies, to put you in tight spots where you'll have to think twice.
And, to add a little more immediate jeopardy, there's always that sprinkle of real-time to consider - the falling stalactites, or the grabby-tentacled aliens who suck gradually more health from you until you dispatch them.
What the game's combat boils down to, then, is sticking to formulas. There's a pretty clear method for efficiently offing each of Nova-111's enemy types, and if you stick to these you'll have no troubles.
Blasting off the spiky armour before attacking head-on, striking in the gaps between bursts of enemy fire, skipping a turn tactically to let a foe approach you first - all these will become second nature.
However, when surrounded by a mob of varied creatures, human incompetence dictates that you'll botch your formulas occasionally. As such, death always feels like it's your own fault - which is a good thing.Killing by numbers
What's not such a good thing, however, is that the game doesn't feel very playful.
Granted, your various abilities give you some room to experiment, and there are occasional flashes of something special when an alien gets whacked by an environmental hazard or friendly fire.
But the fact remains that Nova-111's relatively rigid systems don't create the most thrilling of combat sequences.
There are other quibbles, too. As you plod through the game's levels, your main point of contact is with Dr. Science, your first rescued crew member and all-round advisor.
He, and indeed the majority of the cast, are seemingly British - and boy, do they want you to know about it. Their on-screen snippets of text when you save them feature phrases like "capital idea," exaggerated politeness, and lots of references to tea.
Now I'm not so self-hating as to rag on Britishness, but this feels like a me-too swing for some personality more than anything especially additive to the experience, and I found it a tad charmless.Narrow vision
And while the visual presentation is pretty nice for the most part, there are some pretty shocking UI issues in parts.
These rear their ugly heads most severely in the otherwise-good boss fights, for which someone thought it would be a great idea to stick an absurdly large boss health bar near the middle of the screen. You know, where you're trying to see stuff. Good job!
All in all, Nova-111 is a game that doesn't quite live up to the promise of its concept, and it's mostly down to relatively small mistakes. There's something here, and you'll definitely have fun for a couple of hours, but it's nowhere near what could've been.