This is the one hundred fifty-sixth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred fifty-sixth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is in love with a painted rock. It’s Nigel, by Nolski, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Single player, bird game, puzzle experience

I will experience this puzzle.

Nigel is a game about Nigel the gannet. I had never heard of Nigel the gannet, so I had to look up his story. It began with a habitat restoration effort in New Zealand, on Mana Island. Having cleared the island of invasive species introduced by colonialism, the conservationists hoped to lure some gannets back to the island on which they had once lived. They installed 100 stone birds, painted to look like gannets, and used speakers to play gannet calls. Eventually, this paid off: a single male gannet, dubbed Nigel, arrived. But instead of sparking a new gannet habitat, he wooed one of the stone gannets, building it a nest and trying to groom it and mate with it. Nigel lived with the stone bird for years, and became known as “the world’s lonliest bird”. More real gannets finally arrived four years later, after the decoys were repositioned. But Nigel ignored the real birds, sticking with his stone mate until his death about a month later.

Nigel (the game) does not dwell on the tragedy of this tale. Instead, inspired by Nigel’s story, it puts players in control of Nigel as he helps other species (including some native to New Zealand) find love. Presented from a side-on viewpoint, players fly Nigel around with the keyboard, exploring a papercraft-style landscape and looking for other animals or objects to interact with. There’s narration (credited to Nolan Sadowski, who I presume is Nolski) that drops some animal facts or the occasional joke during proceedings, as well as a wise kākā who offers visual hints. It’s a short game, with just a few simple puzzles to solve in order to spread the love. These aren’t very difficult to figure out, but Nigel seems to be aiming for charming rather than challenging.

There are some rough edges, though. Nigel must pick up objects (including, amusingly, an entire sheep) to solve some puzzles, but I found it difficult to get this to trigger. I would fly Nigel near the object and repeatedly press the key to pick it up, moving around slightly each time, before Nigel would finally grab it. On another occasion, the kākā’s hint indicated that Nigel should interact with a specific object, but I didn’t realize there were two such objects. I tried the wrong one — over and over because I assumed it was another instance of my keypresses not registering — until eventually the item Nigel was carrying glitched out and disappeared. That prevented further progress and I had to start over. The game can be completed in just a few minutes, so it was no major setback, but don’t expect a highly polished experience.

But Nigel succeeds at being charming. The art (by Julia Singh) is really nice. I learned about the mating habits of kiwis, and how to coax hedgehogs out of their hiding places. I played matchmaker for sheep and penguins, and even some fish. And I was able to choose a less tragic ending for Nigel himself. If you’d like a go at helping animals find love, and you missed it in the bundle, Nigel is sold for a minimum price of $3, although at the time of writing it’s on sale, reducing the minimum price to $0.75. Worth a look for all you animal lovers out there.

That’s 156 down, and only 1585 to go!