Noita isn’t shy about its oppressiveness. Enemies always lurk in the shadows, their red eyes and sparkling auras serving as warning signs throughout the tumultuous mountain where the game takes place. You will meet your demise time and time again — often in gruesome ways. But it’s in the unpredictable nature and whimsical playfulness underneath these dangers that the developers’ past work comes together to create a unique and magical playground.
When I say “magical playground,” I mean it. You begin the game as a mage tasked with plumbing the depths of a procedurally generated dungeon filled with multiple areas. Instead of the usual firepower or giant swords that have become the norm in the genre, this roguelite invites you to use wands and experiment with spells. Oh, and every pixel you see is individually simulated.
I get excited any time a video game offers destructible environments. The prospect of seeing the world around me react to my mayhem is always intriguing, but it’s usually not as appealing as it sounds. Sure, you can shoot palm trees in half in Crysis, or blow up statues in Just Cause, but I’ve always wanted to see this on a bigger, more interactive scale. Noita offers just that; the key lies in its pixel art presentation and smart use of elemental spells.
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All of this thrives on combining everything at your disposal. If you’ve previously played Magicka, or the more recent Spellbreak, Noita has a similar sort of spirit. Elements and the spells that create them work together if mixed correctly, and there are dozens of different outcomes based on combination.
Each run begins with two wands and one potion in your inventory. If you have a water potion, you can use it to cover a pool of poison and reach the other side. Or you can create massive fountains from the floors of the dungeon as water leaks from above. Fire is just as deadly as in any other game, but you can jump into a puddle of blood to put it out, or make it even worse by pouring oil over yourself. At times, I found myself debating whether or not to jump into a pool of acid, the equivalent of looking at irradiated toilet water in Fallout when you’re low on health, just to grab a new wand or health upgrade.
There are debates like this in every corner of the dungeon. During one particular run, I stumbled upon a similar scenario, facing a hazardous area ready to take at least half my health with its consecutive damage. I used another potion (these can be either thrown or slowly poured around you) and dove right in — thinking I was safe. Only then I discovered it was a teleportation potion I’d used. I was moved all around the map to where two enemies are pointed shotguns at me.
I desperately start button mashing, but my only spells just then created poison, and yet again the whole damn place became a wasteland. I used another wand to throw a bomb and make the structures around me fall to pieces — an improvised escape route. The portal to the next area was right there, but just as I was about to escape, I noticed the enemies I killed left behind oodles of gold…
I decided to risk it. There was nobody else around, so my plan should have gone smoothly. Except I took the explosion I created too lightly. A massive shard of ice ended my chaotic run then and there.
Action and reaction. Noita constantly surprises you with unpredictable moments. The simulated pixels — which move and react with individual physics — makes these crescendos thrive. You can see ice shatter in real time, or massive pillars consumed by fire and acid, leading to alternate routes that help you escape enemies. During my time playing, I gleefully asked my siblings to come and look at whatever was happening onscreen, just to show someone this was actually happening. I’m glad I’m not into speedrunning, though. I stop to see how the world itself reacts to my actions in pretty much every run. What’s curious is that even after 50 deaths (and counting), I keep finding new ways to break or use the environment to my advantage. I haven’t gotten tired of failing even once.
Needless to say, the loop is satisfying enough to keep you hooked. The developers call it a roguelite, but there are no progression elements that carry upgrades or items onto your next run — besides an index that slowly tracks whatever new enemies or spells you find. What you keep is knowledge, which might less exciting than permanent health upgrades, but works very well among endlessly random puzzles of your own making.
As chaotic and unpredictable as Noita can be, there are many rules and conditions I only learned through practice. For example, you can shoot at flying dynamite to bounce it back at an enemy, and there are foes that explode like poison piñatas when you start making holes in them. Watch out for those.
There’s a sheer excitement when it comes to discovering new spells, too, or when you purchase them in the shops, located between areas when you exit through a portal. These visits are oddly generous. They give you an item to replenish all your spells (some wands have limited uses) and another that heals you in full and grants additional health. You can also purchase brand-new wands and spells, as well as choose between three passive abilities. I’m always struck with hard decisions here. Do I grab the spell that grants me fire immunity, or the one that summons rats to do my bidding whenever I kill an enemy? The answer probably should be the former, but how could I say no to my own vermin army?
I found this sense of discovery really compelling. That’s in spite of the grim setting and the constant fear of death in every run. The developers previously worked on games like Baba is You and The Swapper, so it’s no surprise to meet with many “aha” moments, but it’s the presence of Crayon Physics Deluxe in the studio’s portfolio that made me appreciate Noita even more.
I remember seeing that game at a friend’s house over a decade ago. It’s a simple little puzzler. You just need to get a ball across each level to reach a star. The twist is that it was all done with real-world drawings, either using your mouse or a stylus on a touch screen. You could create ropes, moving cars, and all sorts of things. There wasn’t just one but many different solutions to each problem. It rewarded your creativity through and through. I don’t see myself playing Dreams anytime soon, really, but I would gladly return to Crayon Physics Deluxe just because of how unique and deceptively simple it always felt.
I see a similar potential in Noita. It’s not a game I want to beat as quickly as possible, but rather one that stands out for its oddity, begging to be explored and experimented with over time. Even if you have multiple runs where you only get to the second or third area.
Encounters are always tough, but there’s the silver lining of finding new ways to interact with the environment. It’s a game that expects you to die over and over, reinforcing the staple of the genre. Yet many of the deaths are helpfully hilarious. I’ve only become frustrated with it a few times — mostly when a small set of pixels got my character stuck. Those moments can be useful, however, since the same rules apply to enemies. You can snipe them between the cracks without retaliation.. Given that there are hundreds of spells to discover, this learning curve seems endless. But that’s part of the appeal as well.
I can see myself returning to Noita often — long after it’s left the spotlight again — and mesmerizing me for years to come. It’s an open invitation to explore a playground with its own rules, witnessing my character levitate outside of danger, while creating all sorts of spell combinations on the fly. Even after exiting early access in the same year as many other innovative roguelikes and roguelites, Noita gives me comfort that there’s still joy in sheer discovery and creativity. When these two come together in an harmonious way, it feels like magic.