STAFF REVIEW of Nova Lands (Xbox One)

Friday, September 15, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Nova Lands Box art I have a true love/hate relationship with base-building and resource management games. Often, they are overly complicated or too realistic for my tastes. There is a time and place for both of these styles, of course, but give me something with a cute and cozy aesthetic and throw in some sci-fi components, and I’m infinitely more interested in trying it out. Nova Lands, developed by BEHEMUTT and published by HypeTrain Digital has both of these in spades.

I’ve been playing games for a long time, and I never really understood the appeal of management games at first, and maybe that’s because they needed to be marketed differently for me. When I see them shown, at first glance I think why would I want to sit and just do busy work on my screen? What I needed to do was switch to the thought process of how I could play games and accomplish tasks all while listening to the latest podcast or audiobook. My brain likes to stay busy and multitask, and management-style games like Nova Lands are perfect for this, a way to chill and game all while also catching up on a friend's podcast or a show I don’t really need to 100% focus on. Now, I understand that isn’t the way everyone thinks about management games, but it works for me.

There isn’t anything complicated to the mechanics in Nova Lands, and the layers introduce themselves in a way that’s easy to follow and doesn’t overwhelm you. There is no right way to play, and since you’re only playing a solo experience, there isn’t any reason to feel that you’re playing the wrong way. Now, that being said, I had many moments of doubt while playing that led to me scrapping certain things I was working on and regrouping. That’s the beauty of management sims though, you can always backtrack or start over if you want to.

When you first start your game, your astronaut character lands on a strange planet with an oxygen converter and little else. Your exploration is limited by the amount of oxygen you have, so you will want to constantly replenish it by feeding the machine water drops that conveniently grow on plants in the area. Nova Lands stands out in that there wasn’t really much in the way of a tutorial to walk you through, you just had to sort of play around with things and figure it out. This really isn’t a downside to the game, and in fact, it sort of made me feel like my lost astronaut, figuring things out for myself. Since I’ve played quite a few games of this genre, I had no issues trying to figure out what to start with, but I do worry how someone new to the genre might react if this was their first game of this type. The story is very basic, but Nova Lands is really more of a game about research and management.

First, you start to gather resources around you; wood, stone, and water to begin with. Eventually, you’ll have enough stone to build a furnace to make charcoal from the twigs you can gather. You’ll use this charcoal as fuel to melt ore and minerals you find into bricks that you’ll use to build larger furnaces. I think you can understand the process from here. Use materials to create things that help you get better materials and build better things. Once you have the basics down, you’ll want to try to make these processes happen easier, and faster. You will be able to automate some of the production with the introduction of bots you will build. These bots will either harvest materials or transport them to where they are needed. You can also have bots that will guard the harvester bots or hunt animals that threaten your machines.

As you grow and create new materials, you will research more options too. As you research and create, you’ll open additional islands that will have additional resources and materials. Each island will need some basic items, like creating a spot to provide oxygen while you're there so you don’t have to hop back to the main island all the time. Each island will also need a ‘home base’ of sorts where your bots are controlled via a bot antenna. Other than that, you are free to set your island up however you like.

You can build automated ‘arms’ to move materials from one island to the others and how you determine the best way to do this is up to you. Thankfully you just set them in the direction you want to move materials and designate what material you’ll be moving. This can be a basic item like stone, a block you’ve made from ore, or even animal parts, food, or biofuel. You can change the item being moved at any time as well, allowing you to refine your processes as required. You will want to also create storage areas so you can move a product, store it, and then switch to a new product being moved. This allows the bots to always have the materials they need in order to keep their machines working efficiently. This became the biggest part of the game for me, deciding the best place to set each furnace or machine where it involved the least amount of movement of materials.

As you unlock upgrades you can also upgrade your bots to make them work faster. Eventually, they are basically blue blurs zipping around your maps working while you oversee the whole procedure. The only real downside to your little robot friends is how efficient they are. They can be so fast that you don’t get the chance to grab something, like a steel brick you need to build something before the bots take it as part of their automation process. The only way to really deal with that is to ‘deactivate’ the auto part of a furnace you’re waiting on, collect the materials you need, and then reactivate it. Extra steps but necessary ones. I’ll also mention that you can turn on/off the auto collect for materials, which is fantastic. Since you can only carry a finite number of things at a time on your person, you need to make sure you have what you want to build your next project. When the auto collect is on, you will often pick things up that you just dropped, leading to frustration for me numerous times. So while it can be convenient when you’re just wandering around harvesting, it was also frustrating at times, so having the ability to toggle it off by clicking your left stick, was wonderful.

One of the earliest islands you unlock will give you a group of survivors that will open up shops and create ways for you to upgrade your armour and your gun. There is also a museum of sorts where you must deposit five of every item you can find or create in the game. As I’ve mentioned, you have a weapon now, there are boss fights, but they weren’t the highlight of the game and didn’t really feel connected to the story. I only really went to fight them when I needed the rare materials they dropped.

I was trying to decide how long to estimate the game at, which is almost impossible, and it will be one of those games that you can play for as long as you want. Once you unlock enough research items or skills, you can even build rockets and travel to space, opening up even more content. You’ll create interplanetary trade routes and can travel to a space station and even space walk. Your bots can automate that process for you too. I could easily see having to invest upwards of 50+ hours if you wanted to unlock everything in the game.

Research and skill trees were easy to follow and understand what you needed to do to open the next section. Once I started paying attention to these details I became more invested in Nova Lands. The pace and progression of Nova Lands is really well done. I found the game to be utterly addictive and couldn’t stop playing it. I couldn’t help wondering what the next thing I could create would be, or what the next node on the research tree would unlock. The ‘just one more thing’ feeling is strong in Nova Lands. That’s one of the reasons this review has taken me so long. I didn’t want to stop playing long enough to write this. In fact, I even chose to play Nova Lands over Starfield when it launched. The game is addictive, and I loved every bit of it. Nova Lands is an engrossing supply chain management sim and BEHEMUTT did a fantastic job with it.

Nova Lands leans into the 2D style, and because of that I found it to be a truly nostalgic feeling and worked really well for this style of game. It looks pretty. Each biome feels unique even while using a scaled-back style. The vivid colours used really bring Nova Lands to life. Since the world is relatively compact, the gameplay didn’t feel overwhelming, while still having a sort of mystery driving you to explore and continue progressing. Nova Lands also has an interesting soundtrack to accompany its graphic style. It’s most often serene and chill but has its high-energy moments and battles punctuated with more high-energy music. It was a great balance and a fantastic decision.

Nova Lands doesn’t really give you anything new in the management genre, but it is charming, colourful and addictive. I wasn’t bored at all. Really that’s all I want in a game like this, and I think it’s a great introduction to the genre for anyone who might be interested.

**Nova Lands was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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