Dark Nebula HD: Sci-fi labyrinth game makes Retina comeback

Marble-rolling games have been around for iOS ever since developers learned how to use accelerometer controls - there are countless examples of labyrinth games and other ball rollers, enough to make your eyes glaze over. One has always stood apart for me: the Dark Nebula series. Now it's back and better than ever in HD, with new levels.

Dark Nebula eschewed wooden mazes or other trappings for a gleaming (and dark) science fiction motif. By tilting the iOS device you make your ball roll, and you have to move it through progressively more challenging mazes to make it to the finish line, picking up goodies along the way. It's not just mazes you have to worry about: There are spinning machines, spikes, pits and other dangers to avoid. There are also laser gates whose colors your ball needs to match (by rolling through a designated area) before passing through. You can collect shield power-ups and one-ups too.

Dark Nebula originally appeared for the iPhone and spawned two "episodes" (two separate games carrying the Dark Nebula name), but then it drifted off into obscurity. The game was never updated with native iPad support. 1337 Game Design, the original developer, went on to other things and it seemed that Dark Nebula was doomed to gather dust.

Fast forward to 2013 - Free Lunch Design acquired the game and has built a new HD version designed to work on iPads and Retina Display-equipped iPhones, and they've added new levels, as well. The gameplay is the same fast and frenetic fun as the original, with lots of other stuff too.

Besides re-rendered graphics that make full use of the HD displays of newer iOS devices, they've also added 12 additional levels (for a total of 23). That's great, but we need more. 23 levels is too short.

Dark Nebula HD is a great start for the resurrection of a game franchise that went by the wayside way too soon. With double the levels as before, it's well worth the 99 cents, and hopefully we'll see more from the new developer soon.

The good

  • Great physics
  • Twice as many levels as the original
  • Optimized for Retina displays

The bad

  • Needs more levels

The bottom line

If you're new to the franchise, Dark Nebula HD is a great place to pick it up - it's a reworking of the original with better graphics and more levels. If you're new to it, enjoy this ball-rolling game and look forward to more soon.

Peter Cohen