the artistry and psychology of gaming


Narbacular Drop

Narbacular Drop

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

Ah, September; the gateway month leading to new leases, new classes, and various other new beginnings. In honor of September, Gaming on the House will be celebrating Portal Month (…why not!). Each week in September we’ll be offering a look at various free games based around Valve’s genre-bending foray into the hearts of millions. Starting off the month is the game that started it all!

Narbacular Drop

This is a perfectly cromulent game

Genre: First Person Puzzler
Link to Game:
Game Info:
Released as freeware in 2005 by Nuclear Monkey Software through DigiPen Institute of Technology.

While Portal may have brought GLaDOS, the comp cube, everyone’s favorite Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, and of course, the promise of a cake to the series, the actual concept behind the gameplay of Portal (essentially the manipulation of physics through the use of alternating dimensional portals) was first featured in the game Narbacular Drop, a game created as part of a senior game project at DigiPen Institute of Technology. Narbacular Drop tells the story of Princess No-Knees, who has been captured by a demon, and imprisoned inside a sentient dungeon named Wally. Wally wishes to help the princess escape, so he grants her the use of two dimensional doorways (this time, two grim looking face doors with a red set of eyes and a blue set of eyes) that can be placed on any non-metallic surface within the dungeon to aid in navigation.

Now if you’re wondering what the word “Narbacular” means, don’t feel too bad. It’s not a word. The word was created by the team in order to help the game with search engine results. Fortunately the tactic worked, and Valve took notice, and upon liking what they saw, hired the entire developmenet team to develop Portal, and the rest is history.

Nice Shoes, Princess

While more of a proof of concept than a full fledged game (it only has 5-6 separate puzzle portions, and may average about 10-15 minutes for newcomers), Narbacular Drop is a very interesting playthrough for both anyone who has played the Portal series, or may be looking to test it out. Many of the concepts at play in portal (infinite loops, acceleration and distance through gravity, weighted objects, etc.) can be found and replicated in Narbacular Drop, and also features a few interesting extras. No-Knees can ride on the backs of lava dwelling turtles to get across hotspots where she can’t walk, and has (for part of it) a sentient green creature that runs around after her. There’s also an optional third person viewpoint, which you can switch to in order to see the character, as opposed to Portal, where you could only view your character through portal manipulation (something that can be replicated in Narbacular Drop as well).

Most interesting of all, however, is the ability to create portals within portals. No-Knees is able to aim through a portal, and (provided you’re consistent with your color codes) set up another portal from where she’s standing before traveling through the first one. For the ones that eventually pick up on this, Princess No-Knees can traverse entire rooms through setting up portal after portal with a single step, bringing speed runs of the game down to under 1:30. This is certainly fun to play with, however it’s perhaps best to go through the game under regular Portal rules at least once in order to get the full effect of the puzzles.

Now, while the dungeon itself is fun to navigate through, I should mention that the ending leaves a bit to be desired, or to be more specific, I desire that the game should have an ending. There’s nothing there; you’re just spit out into a room with lava in the middle, a lava turtel off to the side, and a few candles hanging on the walls. The area, called “Fire with Fire,” was assumedly going to have a boss fight against the demon that captured the princess (I imagine she would’ve needed to create a portal that dropped him into the lava). While the Boss was actually created and can be viewed in the game’s art gallery, he doesn’t appear anywhere in the game itself, so once you reach the final room, you simply win… that’s it.

Instead of a boss, they do leave you with a turtle at the end… so there’s that.

And don’t bother making portals behind each of the candles to knock them off the walls then kick them into the lava in order to physically fight “fire with fire” as the title would suggest. I’ve done it, and nothing happens.

Ending aside, there’s still some enjoyment to be had in Narbacular Drop to see just how much of Portal‘s gameplay was derived from it. While just a short experience, the game’s puzzles are still fun to complete, and it’s still an exciting piece of Portal history.

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