A recent graduate, you are tasked with surveilling the squirrels of Melmoth Forest. Armed with a GPS tracker and a series of cameras, and with just your boss Nina for company, your mission is to watch the wildlife and see what they’re up to.
Watching the trailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of Lovecraftian horror — something compounded by their eerie music and the title, Nuts. What we have instead is a simple game about being an ecologist, out in the wild. No horror. No suspense. No real… anything really.
On paper, this should be the game for me. I’m a biology grad, a photographer and I love squirrels. I have no problem with the repetitive task of trailing animals, day after day, night after night, to see what they’re up to. Case in point, there are 19 ducks on the stretch of river near my house and I have named them all, after visiting them daily for the past four months. And yet, despite the fact that this game seems tailor-made for me, something about Nuts on the Nintendo Switch just didn’t click with me.
It’s not the art style — the muted, contrasting pastels here give a very striking atmosphere to the game. The things you can interact with, all popping off the screen nicely. All in all, it looks like a charming forest to stroll through as you methodically go about your business.
It’s not the concept: the idea is that the squirrels always take the same path every night, creatures of habit that they are, and your task is to either follow or reverse engineer their path to track their comings and goings. Something is afoot in the forest, however, and your research is key to finding out why the squirrels are behaving so strangely. I quite enjoyed this as a concept, and the fiddling with the tripod and camera positioning was something I do for fun in the real world, so no complaints there.
The execution of the game, however, leaves a lot to be desired. You can only interact with Nina by faxing her things, causing your phone to immediately ring. From here, you’re entirely passive — she talks at you and you’d better pay attention, because she will not repeat anything for love nor shiny monetary reward. Trying to fax her the same thing will just immediately tell you that’s not what she wants, please try again.
You can find a list of instructions on the sheet you fax her to start each mission, but that’s not quite as immersive as being able to hold dialogue, or even just ask “Wait, can you repeat that?”. You’re as in charge of the narrative here as you are in charge of a DVD.
The only other aspect of storytelling here, besides Nina’s monologue, is Nina’s cassette tapes — somehow surviving being left on a rock in the forest for 20 years — which provide further monologues. This gives you her backstory, but it’s not all that interesting. Guess what, 20 years ago, your boss did what you do now. Compelling…
The gameplay itself might save the Nuts, if it wasn’t so horrifically clunky. The way the cursor works makes Nuts feel like a PC game ported to the Switch without any care of foresight. There are no touchscreen controls or any reason to prioritise handheld over docked, or Nintendo over Steam.
Although I was keen on seeing where the story was going, after fighting a series of bugs including clipping through and getting stuck in the wall of the caravan you live in, I was stuck locked behind a game-breaking bug in which Nina lost all ability to see squirrels.
Woe is me, I thought, as I tried sending multiple photos of the same squirrels from different angles. Any squirrel in shot there must have felt like James Bond strapped to a villain’s table with the number of things pointed at it. But no, Nina was resolute that the three fluffy denizens of the forest in frame were not squirrels, despite my silent protest.
So I did what I had to and watched the end of the game on YouTube. Although there is a plot here, the game is too short to go into any real detail, other than to say your work as a researcher is vital to saving the squirrels of Melmoth Forest. You do your thing and are met with a thoroughly underwhelming conclusion and an out-of-place musical number.