Do you remember your first squirrel? If you didn’t have a taxidermy obsessed dad, chances are you encountered the rodent while playing in the woods. Perhaps you’ve never seen one in the wild. They’re spindly little creatures that quickly dart away when you try to approach them. The perfect specimens to capture on camera, and that’s excactly what you’ll be doing in NUTS, releasing on Apple Arcade today.
Elevator pitched as an adventure in squirrel surveillance, NUTS takes place in the remote tranquility of Melmoth Forest. As a researcher, it’s your task to document the routines of the squirrels. You do this by wandering through the forest and placing your cameras by day, then observing the video footage by night. Sitting behind a pile of CRT screens like you’re Head of Forest Security, allows you to zoom in on the images and make print-outs that can help you determine how the rodent continued its path. New information in hand, you venture out the next day and try to imagine where the critter might have gone next.
This core gameplay mechanic is courtesy of Jonatan “Joon” Van Hove, who traded a career in corporate IT in Belgium for the life of a game developer in Iceland. Among other events, he was one of the driving forces behind Antwerp based game festival Screenshake. His presence in the indie scene allowed him to quickly gather a talented team of individuals to flesh out NUTS, after the initial prototype garnered a lot of positive feedback.
Striking a deal with Canadian publisher Noodlecake and Apple along the way, NUTS has been built by a core team of five talented specialists in their field, which allowed them a great level of financial and creative ownership. As we can’t say it better than the official blurb: the code is made in Reykjavik (by Joon and Torfi), the trees are planted in Montreal (by Pol), the books are written in Copenhagen (by Char) and the foley is recorded in Berlin (by Muuutsch, who already won an IndieCade award for best sound design). There’s even more ties to the #BelgianGamesIndustry, as Charlene was a writer on Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3, and Almut is the sound designer and composer for Happy Volcano’s upcoming You Suck at Parking.
The game loop is satisfying in and of itself, but it is the atmosphere of the environments that take NUTS to the next level. While the levels are gorgeous shades of line and colour, the detailed soundscape makes you believe you’re hiking through a real forest. After a few assignments you’ll no longer be looking at the terrain as a human, but will have completely embraced a squirrel state of mind. What would I do if I were a squirrel?
The story that drives the experience isn’t always evenly paced, but it spins an intriguing tale that manages to play with both your expectations and genre tropes. Fun little detail: the Dutch translation was written by Joon’s sister, so when playing with Dutch subtitles, professor Nina Scholz is hailing from the city of Antwerp.
NUTS is out today on iOS and macOS via Apple Arcade. Not a fan of apples? You’ll have to wait until 4th February to pick up the game on pc and Nintendo Switch, then.