Nefarious attempts to harken back to platformers of old in this action platformer, but is it trying to fill shoes that are too big for it to fit?
Starblade, the developers of Nefarious, first began a Kickstarter for the game on August 19th of 2014. The title started strong, with 10% of its goal of $50,000 met within the first day. Nefarious would go on to meet its goal, ending with $50,331. With the goal met it was time to make a game, and on January 23rd of 2017 the title was released on Steam for both PC and Mac, as well as the Wii U. With a development cycle of about 2 years, many were eager to see if the indie title would be worth the wait and be one of the first platforming gems of 2017.
Nefarious has players taking on the role of Crow, an aspiring super villain with goals of having the world under his command. Tasked with capturing 5 princesses in order to complete his goal of world domination, players will roam the globe in search of the heirs of royalty through various kingdoms. Even with a legion of minions and a fortified base at your command, victory is not assured, as heroes from each of the kingdoms will stop at nothing to save their respective princesses and put a stop to your plan.
Aesthetically speaking, the game is presented in an enjoyable art style with hand drawn characters and environments. While it certainly isn’t the best looking title available, effort clearly went into the game’s visuals. Another highlight of the game is its very enjoyable soundtrack. I found myself loving almost every tune the game had, and if players find special disks tucked away in each world, they can listen to their favorite tracks while on board their flying fortress.
The title plays similar to 2D action platformers of old in the vein of titles such as Megaman and Sonic, and even has characters who are parodies of platforming heroes, some more obvious than others. Nefarious certainly plays like an older title, but mostly because it has many shortcomings that some titles of old had. Unfair jumps, enemy placement and frequent attacks from off-screen will lead to frustrating deaths. Couple this with slippery controls and deceptive platforms and you have a less than entertaining experience all around.
Levels in Nefarious typically have players dropping into the outskirts of a kingdom and traversing their way through that area’s minions and monsters in order to make it to the castle. Once inside, players continue until reaching the princess, each of whom changes the gameplay for the remaining of the level. These changes range from increased jump height to not allowing the player to stop running but giving them increased damage and projectiles.
The princesses do add a good bit a variety to the gameplay, but I found that they were wasted in the overall scheme of the game. While each princess does add depth to the game, they are only used in their specific levels. Once you have a princess, you cannot take them with you on later levels to use their abilities, meaning that you use them at most only once throughout the course of the game (unless you choose to revisit a level for collectibles). Had the option been available to use the skills from the princesses in some shape or form once they have been acquired, the game could have opened itself up in many more ways. It feels as though Starblade wanted to do this, as the Kickstarter and Steam pages both seem to suggest more was planned for the princesses. Unfortunately, this is not evident in the final product.
A concept shown in Nefarious’ trailer footage is that as the villain of the story, boss fights play from the perspective of a villain. You are meant to overwhelm the heroes with brute force as opposed to wit. This is initially very interesting and a fun take on boss battles, but it quickly falls flat. While it is indeed fun to pummel the heroes with your oversized machines, you will quickly find that the patterns of the heroes and what you must do to succeed are so easy that there is little chance for you to actually fail in these encounters. Indeed, I really only found any sort of challenge in the final boss encounter of the game, where the game suddenly has a large difficulty spike.
Nefarious does have bright spots. Nefarious has writing that was enjoyable enough to keep me playing all the way to the end, with several lines of fairly witty dialogue. There are also certain levels and areas that truly had me engrossed while playing, such as a particularly entertaining submarine level. Unfortunately, these are much too few and far between to hold interest for that long. Starblade may have subconsciously known this, as it is possible to play through the game in just about 5 hours.
While not game breaking, there are just far too many little things Nefarious doesn’t do correctly or as good as other titles that add up to a sour experience. Dialogue scrolls as you play, meaning you will often miss story elements unless you stop to read the text. Most upgrades are fairly useless to the player besides the health and ammo upgrades. The game provides two endings, but the one that is considered the “good” ending can only be acquired by finding a secret in a level that players would very likely gloss over. This removes the choice from the player and instead leaves it up to whether or not they found a secret that was not even previously hinted to them.
Nefarious is a title that had all the elements needed to make a good game, but lacks the polish that goes with one. This finished product on Steam feels more like a very good game on Newgrounds, and it’s really a shame as the developers seem to have put in a good deal of work to make something enjoyable. Unfortunately, with its lackluster gameplay as well as a short and average story, you have a game that really does not warrant its $15 price tag. As harsh as I have been on the title, it is not absolutely terrible. Should the price ever drop, or if you are a die-hard fan of platformers, this may be worth picking up. For everyone else, may be best to save your money for another title.