The Nintendo Switch has become the new bastion for indies, with games like Shovel Knight, Stardew Valley, and Golf Story thriving on the powerful portable - and that makes it the perfect platform for a fascinating curio like Uurnog Uurnlimited. The latest from Nicklas Nygren, the mind behind the one-man studio Nifflas Games, Uurnog (pronounced 'er-nawg') feels like a throwback to the kind of NES oddities I've been craving after binge-watching a bunch of Game Center CX. The immediate comparison would be Super Mario Bros. 2 / Doki Doki Panic, given how your character picks up block-shaped items (sometimes plucking them up from the ground via telltale sprouts) and proudly carries them above their head, ready to throw or drop at a moment's notice. But the structure of this 2D puzzle-platforming adventure is wonderfully cryptic, recapturing much of the enticing mysticism that thrived in the 8-bit era. Oh, and it's got kickin' AI-generated music to boot.
You learn by doing in Uurnog Uurnlimited. It may not be immediately clear, but your main goal (for at least one of three possible endings) is to gather bits, bobs, and funny-looking creatures from throughout the world, teleport them to your Save Room - the main hub that retains your collection whenever the world resets on death - and pop them into a computer/teleporter. The simple-but-fetching pixel art makes it easy to distinguish objects even when they're all clumped together in a huge pile - but their function will remain a mystery until you experiment a bit (or observe how they respond to silent NPCs you'll find cavorting around the world). Most items have a one-word function associated with them - and much like Spelunky, you might discover some surprising interactions (and potential puzzle solutions) through sheer serendipity.
Nifflas' best known work is likely the Knytt series, the cult classic platformers with absolutely massive environments to traverse. Uurnog's world is nowhere near as big (by my estimation - I've not found an actual map), but it encourages exploration with plenty of puzzles and clues to pursue no matter which direction you choose to run and jump in, and you've got a lot of freedom to approach solutions as you see fit. Despite what you might assume by the Uurnlimited in the title, Uurnog's world is entirely hand-crafted - a blessing for anyone (like me) who's fatigued by how many indie games seem to revolve around procedural generation.
As you hop around the environment and potter around with various items, your actions will shape the blippy, synthy soundtrack that algorithmically responds to how you play. Triggering explosions, using doors, blasting robots - anything, really - causes the music to change tempo, shift keys, or fire off a little ditty that harmonizes into something sounding pleasant rather than chaotic. The adaptive score is made possible by Ondskan (which, rather forebodingly, is the Swedish word for 'evil'), a tool Nygren created to produce music powered by machine learning. Without wanting to sound like a Skynet alarmist, an AI brain is using neural networking to produce a fitting soundtrack for your adventure. The way Nygren describes it, Ondskan's creative process sounds like a supercomputer taking part in hyperspeed piano lessons. "It's pretty quick [to train the neural networks]," says Nygren. "Five to 10 minutes each. Typically, one to three million iterations. The neural networks are relatively small and don't deal with that much data. Some more complex ones I train up to 20-30 minutes."
Uurnog originally debuted on PC on the Humble Store, but Nifflas teamed up with publisher Raw Fury (which brought you titles like Gonner and Kingdom) to beef up the game and bring it to Switch and Steam. The enhanced port features a co-op mode, where you can tag in a second player by leashing up one of the many dogs you'll encounter; this creates some familiarly funny frenemy situations where you might either solve a puzzle collaboratively or 'accidentally' kill one another. And more importantly, Uurnlimited introduces customized, player-made levels on the Steam Workshop, which will then be ported over to the Switch ecosystem. The logistics are still being worked out, but directly transferring creations made by Steam users to Switch players is a first for Nintendo, and could be a sign of more cross-platform experimentation to come.
Uurnog Uurnlimited lends itself to marathon adventuring or bite-sized puzzling pursuits - a perfect fit for the Switch lifestyle. And for anyone who grew up with oddball NES games that started out slightly confusing, yet quickly drew you in with clever mechanics and intriguing secrets, Uurnog feels like a pleasingly modern take on retro designs. You'll be able to explore its world and enjoy its dynamic tunes when Uurnog Uurnlimited releases for Nintendo Switch and Steam before the end of the year.