Firewatch for David Attenborough? Pokemon Snap with extra squirrel action? However you choose to describe Nuts, a single-player surveillance mystery, this week’s new addition to Apple Arcade, and soon PC via Steam, one thing’s for sure – you’ll never feel the same way about squirrels again.
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Nuts | Simulation | Free with Apple Arcade subscription
TL, DR: Fancy yourself as a budding mini Attenborough? A single-player surveillance mystery, Nuts is a first-person puzzle sim that casts you as a naturalist, trying to figure out what a group of cunning squirrels is up to. His stylized pastel look sets him apart, as does his in-game photography.
For those who’ve ever tried to win a squirrel staring contest (haven’t you all?), You’ll know there’s something else going on behind those obsidian chicks. If they don’t drop Avenger from trees, they’ll bury nuts in secret storerooms – the only land mammal known to hide rather than scoff its Christmas treats. We may never know exactly what the squirrel army is up to (and whatever it is, you can bet it’s no good), but with Nuts you may be able to take a little deeper look at what drives those sprung rats.
A first-person adventure created by Joon, Pol, Muuutsch, Char & Torfi, you are an aspiring field researcher from Viago University, sent to the remote Melmoth Forest to observe the increasingly bizarre behavior of the native squirrel population in the forest. With a large company looking to level the area to make way for luxury accommodation (which I like the ‘Goonies’ Call to Arms‘), you will soon discover the scent of a mystery that could shock everyone involved.
So how do you go about discovering the truth? No, not with a bag full of sunflower seeds, but by laying traps of the photographic kind. Your boss, Dr. Nina Scholz, will call the cabin every now and then to give direction to your lonely days, directing you to where the squirrels might be courting and what they are up to. It’s then up to you to take your in-game DSLR and tripod and plot out the best spots to catch a glimpse of the squirrels, and make sure your cameras can cover every path the squirrels can take – the Pine Tree Paparazzi.
You leave the footage overnight and then rate it for clues the next day, faxing still images to Scholz to find out the rodents’ intentions.
There’s a nice, methodical rhythm to the procedure – an excellent sound design lets you get lost in the forest, move at your own pace to enjoy the tranquil scenery and figure out how best to capture the day. At a time when the outside world has been cut off to many of us, it is refreshingly meditative to be able to trek through a stylized forest, separated from the horrors of both claustrophobia and the true Covid fear – even when the tranquility is interrupted by some rather strange happenings.
Some point-and-click style cues are also dotted around – you can’t get started until you’ve filled the cabin’s generator from a jerry can, while full-voice conversations with Scholz help you understand it better. more personal side of the story.
It’s also a great looking game. The art style has an inky black, hand-drawn sketch feel, with clean contours of objects and highly contrasting pastels that draw your attention to forest landmarks. It’s like a playable Instagram filter (and that’s said without the condescension that association with the social network might entail), reminding me, if only for a moment, that there will ever be a time and a season where I can not only see the brown leaves of fall, but trudge through them like a five year old.
One thing to watch out for is performance issues on older hardware. Played on a first-gen iPad Pro 9.7, Nuts suffered from a choppy frame rate that could make some finer interactions a bit cumbersome, at least when paired with a DualShock 4 PS4 controller. That might not be much of a problem if you’re playing on newer devices (or if you’re using the game’s touchscreen controls, rather than the on-screen cursor, to interact with smaller buttons and details). But keep in mind that the mileage can vary per device.
Still, the procedure here has a great, slow-burning mysterious feel. If you’ve played a few so-called ‘Walking Simulators’ it feels familiar, but the security engineer adds something new to the genre. Apple Arcade, with its first anniversary now well behind it, continues to trickle insightful and unusual adventures to its subscription service with a cadence weighted with pinpoint accuracy, enough to keep your finger far from that unsubscribe button. However, keep in mind that a game about squirrels may not be as cute as it might seem at first glance …