Nova Drift by Jeffrey Nielson of Chimeric and Pixel Jam.
Available via early access on Steam on March 26, 2019

Filled to the brim with as mechanical depth as the Grand Canyon, Nova Drift brings the universe a highly unique blend of arcade shooter, action RPG, Roguelike, and bullet hell shooter. Set on a magnificent backdrop of stars, planets, and spectacular explosions you will pilot your constantly-evolving ship around and through enemies while choosing from a plethora of ship and weapon upgrades. There’s almost more here than one can handle. But don’t worry, Nova Drift takes some cues from the well-popularized Roguelike genre, by turning each Nova Drift run into a highly unique and wildly different experience. While Nova Drift does borrow elements from varying genres I don’t think there’s anything out there like Nova Drift. At least I haven’t played or seen anything like this.

Thrilling Action

Nova Drift’s premise is simple enough. It’s a game where you’ll pilot your spaceship in a top-down fashion while shooting and maneuvering around enemies over and over. Except its significantly more thrilling than that otherwise, we wouldn’t have much to talk about here would we? After gunning down a few enemies you’ll level up and be given the opportunity to choose a new upgrade module. Only after choosing your hull, weapon, and shield type does Nova Drift really get started. A key tenant of Nova Drift is combining many upgrade modules and seeing what happens. These upgrade modules work quite well by themselves but when coupled with others they may make for more devastating effects than originally thought. Part of the fun is experimenting and finding out what works and what doesn’t for your playstyle. Don’t worry. It’s not too cumbersome and overwhelming. The choices are usually done pretty quick and your creativity will be rewarded in the end. Nova Drift works superbly well with keyboard and mouse or controller. I had no issues kicking back with my Xbox controller and having some fun with this one.

To The Stars!

nova drift upgrades

There’s no shortage of upgrades in Nova Drift

Nova drift starts out almost on an elementary level. A few enemies here, a few bullets there. Colorful streaks grace the skies as you find yourself swiftly jetting across the screen with Nova Drift’s silky smooth controls. Then things start to change. Waves of tense combat sequences filled with furor become more frequent once you start picking your way through the upgrade modules and husks of dead ships. The choices are yours alone, you are the lone pilot. Railgun vs Pulse? Amp vs Halo? This is only the start. Gunning down ship after ship yields more experience which means more upgrade choices. The choice yet again falls at your feet. It is here that Nova Drift shines as brightly as the sun and things get… hot. I’m really not kidding about this. The game looks and sounds like a million bucks. You’ll find yourself quickly speeding around dodging bullets, firing your own projectile creations as both the screen and your earholes are rocked by explosions and near-misses. I can now tell my wife that she’s not only addictive but pretty and sounds really good as well.

Rooted in Rogues

Nova Drift was created part Rogue so that no run is ever the same as the last. Everything here is randomized from enemy waves to upgrade modules. The text “every game is randomly generated” listed on Nova Drift’s Store page is no bullshit. I found myself making spur of the moment upgrade choices based on what I was feeling during that specific run. No best setups, no pre-defined choices. Just running and gunning with whatever I was feeling at that moment. That’s not to say you won’t find your favorites. I’m quite fond of the Torrent and Salvo weapons or a Halo shield to burn my enemies into dust. When playing Nova Drift it felt like I got good bang for my buck on each run. Unless I did something really stupid each run lasted at least 15 minutes, often times longer, which gave me ample opportunity to try new things and see how it all works together. As with any good rogue the farther you get the more exciting things become! Instead of dealing with two or three different enemies you now dealing with half a dozen or more and now they are all different.  Often times rogues are hellbent on killing you as fast as possible but that’s not the case with Nova Drift. It really feels like the game wants you to play with it and fiddle its knobs and switches. This is exactly what I did at least.

Challenging Modes

nova drift challenge modes

Challenge modes change up the rules of the game

Nova Drift also comes complete with unlockable challenge modes. Nova Drift challenge modes are where you get to change the rules of the game in exchange for increased difficulty, experience, and score. It’s again left up to you on which challenge modes you want to enable, and which you want to save for another day. An ongoing theme with Nova Drift is that you get to play the way you want to play. I don’t think we’ll see a shortage of updates that may drastically change some of these modes either. A 2019 roadmap has already been published detailing the next year and beyond. I’m especially interested in testing out the newly announced Wild Metamorphosis challenge mode when it’s released. As you can see above there’s still 2 that I have yet to unlock in my 10 hours or so of gameplay prior to this review. Don’t worry, I’ll be playing Nova Drift well past when this thing is published.

Styling with Sparkly Sparklers

Nova Drift Sparklers

Impactful style doesn’t take a back seat in Nova Drift

Nova Drift’s graphic style lives somewhere between the old Grateful Dead and a more modern dance rave party. Ships and projectiles explode in arrays of fantastical colors and fragments. Ship’s thruster fumes sparkle like the sunlight dancing across the lake. If you’re going to ding Nova Drift on one thing it’s most definitely not in its presentation. It’s well executed and is pleasing to the eyeballs. I swear that Nova Drift has taught me how to hear colors through my earholes. At least it feels a lot like this while jetting across the screen unleashing colorful fury against the enemy ships. It gets better as you progress farther and earn more upgrade modules. Most of the upgrades increase the number of bullets, thrusters, or shields which means more sparkly sparklers flying across the screen. Don’t @ me when you start playing Nova Drift and swear your high on hallucinogenic drugs. Just go with it and reach for that high score.

When the Stars Align

There are only a few reviews where I can’ really think of anything bad to say. Maybe I can call out Nova Drift for not being released on the Nintendo Switch but I don’t think that’s fair because they never advertised it. A guy can dream though, can’t he? Nova Drift is an awesome game and there’s just not a whole lot of bad to say about it right now. It’s not only sleek and sexy looking but it comes with smooth as can be controls with enough personalization in the upgrade modules to make your head spin. It’s releasing into Steam Early Access highly polished and fairly complete right from the start with a solid roadmap to keep everyone invested in the future. I can’t say this about every title I come across. What makes it truly shine is that Nova Drift doesn’t try to do everything. It’s simply a twin-stick space roguelike shooter. It’s within this restraint and sole purpose that makes Nova Drift one of the best games I’ve played this year.