Nimbatus: Drone Constructor

Nimbatus is a “Meh” game, but a fun toy.

Cowards hide their opinions at the bottom of the post. I’m not a coward, so let’s get into it. I’ve played about 10 hours of Nimbatus. It don’t think it’s a very fun game. I do think that it is a fun toy. Let’s talk about Nimbatus, the difference between games and toys, and then I’m going to randomly share some related anecdotes.

The primary draw of Nimbatus is building and constructing drones. The mode you choose to play changes which parts you get to do this with. There are two primary modes, multiplayer, which is kinda badly named, and singleplayer. Within single player you have sandbox and survival. The gameplay of both of the singleplayer modes is pretty similar, the only actual difference being in sandbox, you have all the parts and can do whatever you want. It’s more or less like creative mode in Minecraft. I’d say this makes it pretty boring. In survival you do the same thing, except you start with only a few of the parts, and you have to earn more by doing missions and such.

I didn’t find either of these modes very fun, because the primary draw of Nimbatus is making drones. And neither of these modes actually requires you to do that. I found that for survival, I made a single basic drone that I slowly updated with with new parts that I got, but none of the missions ever required me to seriously redesign the ship. Most of the missions were fairly boring, and boiled down to one of the following: Kill a Thing, Shoot a Thing, Find a Thing, Pick Up a Thing and Bring it Back. That’s it. These are the primary missions you’ll be doing. When you complete a few missions, you’ll open up the ability to warp to the next solar system. At the end of the solar system is the next galaxy.

The loop is fairly simple: try to reach the next galaxy. You have a threat meter at the top of your screen, and if it gets too high, you get attacked by an enemy ship. However, this isn’t actually a fight or encounter. Instead a small cutscene plays, and you lose a life. Your ship has a maximum of five of these, and they can be repaired at junk stations. I’m assuming if you run out of lives, it’s game over.

In addition, because each time you deploy to a planet increases your threat meter, you don’t really want to waste effort deploying multiple times. So instead of making bunch of multipurpose drones, I primarily found myself making one big drone with drills, resource collectors and weapons.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about singleplayer, which I found really dull because it didn’t actually require me to make interesting drones/ships, let’s talk about the multiplayer which I had a lot more fun with.

One big thing: none of the multiplayer modes are actually “Multiplayer,” at least in the sense that I expected. Instead, all of them require you to design automated drones that meet various requirements, and then pit them against other players’ automated drones. You will never actually control a live drone against another live human opponent. Personally, I think this is kinda lame.

There are 5 multiplayer modes, and they are as follows: Timed Racing, Sumo, Brawl, Race, and Catch. Of these, I spent the most time on Sumo, and a bit on Brawl. Personally, I think Timed Racing is pretty pointless. The other four modes all pit you against another player’s drone, in some sort of challenge. In Sumo, you try to be the last person in the ring. In Brawl, you try to destroy the enemy core before they destroy yours. In Race, it’s a race, and in Catch, you both try to touch a target before the opponent.

This is where I’d get into my core argument about Nimbatus being a fun toy, and a bad video game. Nimbatus plays like a toy, which is to say if you don’t enjoy interacting with it, it isn’t actually all that fun to use. The actual single player wasn’t interesting to me, because as a toy, it was like trying to use a single set of Legos to build something. While there’s some fun to be had in that, it feels very limited, especially knowing there are all these other great parts you could use.

The fun part of Nimbatus is having access to all the parts, and trying to build interesting or funky drones. Just within Sumo mode, I saw 8+ different general design patterns, all with different plans for how to win and different strategies. But everything about the single player mode discourages doing that. You are penalized for experimenting. You don’t have all the parts. The best part of the game, building drones, is more or less actively discouraged, and you’re expected to not take risks.

I’d also like to quickly note one other system in place. In the trailer, I saw a variety of ridiculous and crazy looking drones. There’s a part fee that gets applied to deploy a drone, based on how many components the drone has. So yeah, deploying your insane crazy super snake build in Survival will bankrupt you, at which point you might as well just go back to the simple jack of all trades ship I mentioned above.

As a toy, trying to build clever autonomous drones for the multiplayer modes is fun. Seeing other players’ clever strats, and trying to figure out both how they got their drone to do something, while also how to beat it was fun for me. But actually piloting drones in singleplayer was boring.

I have one other big gripe with Nimbatus, and it has to do with some of the parts. In Nimbatus, you have a variety of parts to use, including a large set of weapons, and set of items called “Factory Parts” that I think can actually print out additional parts and ships while a drone is displayed.

I say “I think” because you can’t use any of these parts in any of the multiplayer modes. You can use a small subsection of the weapons in Brawl, but you can’t use any ranged weapons, and you can’t use TNT. So, of all the blasters, lasers, shotguns, beams, and so on? You can ONLY use them in singleplayer. Same thing with factory parts. I get that for balance sense, it’s reasonable to not want to give access to those parts in multi. I really do wish though there was a unlimited or open mode that allowed me to send my bots against my friends with no locks on what could be deployed. I think that would be great.

Okay, so now, story time. Long ago in Days of yore, back when I was in middle school, I participated in a thing called Lego League. You were given a set of Lego Mindstorms robots, and then you were given a set of tasks and problems to solve. I only ever did one year, but I remember it quite fondly. I also remember our team, Deep Mind (named after the super computer in Hitchhikers Guide, which I was a bit obsessed with at the time).

One of the first things that we discovered early on while preparing for our challenges was the following: it is possible to complete a very large number of the tasks that were scored for points in the challenge by simply having the robot drive forward, push something into place, and then drive backward. Because WINNING, we decided to accomplish as much as we feasibly could via this system, and instead of spending our time programming the robot and making clever solutions to problems, we instead mostly just created add-on attachments that quickly and simply solved the given problem. Then, we pointed the robot in the right direction, and ran our brilliant “Go Forward and Then Come Back” program.

Overall, I don’t remember doing very well at the end of season competition. I do remember spending several hours on the way down trying to catch Girantina in Pokemon Diamond in the car.

The reason I include this whole anecdote is that the singleplayer parts of Nimbatus remind me of Lego League. Instead of focusing on experimenting, the constraints of the format led us to find the most efficient and rather boring way to solve the problems, and then apply it to as many other situations as possible. Instead of focusing on experimentation and creativity, we focused on WINNING. I think that was to our detriment. Nimbatus singleplayer survival feels the same way to me.

On the other hand, I also remember doing something rather similar to Sumo with Mindstorms at a day long camp/workshop/drop your kids at the library and then go do something you enjoy style event. In that one, there was one really good robot that someone had brought in, that was really well made and clever. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to beat it, by trying strategies like “making part of our bot detach,” or “having contain a spinning windmill like shape that would, in theory, yank out of the some connecting wires on the opposing bot.”

I don’t remember beating that robot. I do remember having a lot more fun. For me, this is what the Nimbatus multiplayer modes feel like: trying to make something interesting and out-think the other bot designers. You need to understand what you want to do, and you also need to look at other drones and try to learn what they’re doing, and how they do it. For me, this was what made Nimbatus fun.

Nimbatus is on Steam for 15$. If you like building drones, trying to out think people, or simply just building lots of ridiculous crazy contraptions, you’ll most likely enjoy it for at least a bit. But the single player aspects of the game never clicked for me. It also bums me out that a decent portion of the parts and weapons can only be used in singleplayer mode.

Nimbatus is a fun toy. I can see myself coming back to it every now and then, and building something, much like legos. But there is a lot of effort and space that feels wasted, I wish the multiplayer was actually multiplayer, and it would be cool if there were more game modes. And I really wish there was true free for all, or actual multiplayer.


I’ll be the roundabout.