Crows, it turns out, are probably smarter than you think. They seem to be able to recognize human faces and craft tools to solve problems they run up against—the problem pretty much always being a lack of food, but still. You learn this as you play Cullen Dwyer’s new game NEST, which he gives a kind of epigraph for on its itch.io page: “Explore the forest as a crow/ and try to make friends/ with whom to find treasure and secrets.”
NEST is a short game, and more than anything else it resembles Knytt or the small and atmosphere-heavy platformers of the early 2000s built in Game Maker. Part of that connection comes from the tiled visuals and the smooth movement, but there are similarities in the design sensibilities, too. When you first launch into the air, four little red bubbles spin around you, immediately making it clear that you have four more flaps before you have to coast to the ground. You can chirp back and forth with other birds to convince them to follow you or make them do stuff (carry things, mostly) to further the goals of your growing bird-cult.
Visuals with sprites this sparse can be difficult to read, but NEST solves that problem in a number of ways: by extending its sense of minimalism to its color palette, it keeps you from ever losing your bright red crow in the dark greens of the forest. And by building its obstacles in the simplest identifiable shapes, it makes your goals very clear from the outset without textual help.
It’s fitting that the itch.io page describes the game with a poem, because NEST feels precise in the way that a verse might. The repetition and rhythm that can be found in a lot of games are presented here with so little embellishment that those forms are significant parts of the experience, from the flaps to the chirps to your three bird-friends and the three diamonds in the altar.
You can download NEST for Windows here.