Nefarious Review

Ne-Ne-Nefarious!

I’ve brought this up before, but I really do pity a lot of modern unestablished independent game developers.  With how flooded the games market has become, it can be very difficult for a small time game developers to gain any sort of attention, traction, or recognition for their work, as sites only report on so many titles and the few smaller games that do garner a spotlight typically house aspects or elements that make them something truly special and unique.  Whereas many good though not very remarkable or simply okay games seem doomed to obscurity.  One of these examples is Nefarious.

Nefarious Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: StarBlade

Nefarious is a classically styled 2D action platformer built around the novel concept of playing as a princess kidnapping villain who would serve as the antagonist in a platformer of old.  A rather simple yet straightforward idea that more specifically centers around Crow, a purple clad supervillain who is on a quest to kidnap princesses in order to power a doomsday weapon in order to take over the world, which is powered by princesses because of reasons.  

The game adopts a more lighthearted and comedic tone that regularly pokes fun at the various tropes in traditional hero stories in games, has a variety of different takes on the damsel archetype, and is peppered with a scattering of pretty enjoyable gags for good measure.  The game itself proves to be rather enjoyable on this front, introducing a steady cast of characters with amusing personalities that bounce off of one another nicely and are well written enough to warrant one’s attention as the story escalates to its finale.  

It is an amusing story for certain, but even that shows signs of what I feel is the critical problem with Nefarious, the fact that the game does not feel fully… finished.  Despite having played version 1.1, the level of polish present throughout the story, gameplay, and general presentation of Nefarious struck me as something from a very late beta build of a game.  One that is content complete, but has a lot of little visual and mechanical improvements to be made before its proper launch.  From certain elements of stage layouts, to the inability to back out of certain menus with the B button, to some wonkier physics that had yet to be ironed out.

It results in a very rough feeling experience that is ultimately led by gameplay that while very competent, never feels remarkable.  Nefarious is an action platformer focusing on a character who can jump, punch, and lob grenades to defeat a variety of enemies, overcome obstacles, and gather a small handful of secrets hidden across a variety of themed levels that all house their own unique elements and ideas.  All of which feels rather familiar to anybody well versed in action platformers of the Super Nintendo and Genesis-era, and is only made unique through two mechanics.  The first bring Crow’s grenades, which can be used to hit enemies in hard to reach locations, aimed in 360 degrees, and even be used for surprisingly tricky grenade jumps.  Along with a share of themed boss battles that are neither plentiful enough to feel like a major mechanic and are generally not that enjoyable.  

The best example of this is a battle wherein Crow must fight against a bee character made to mimic Sonic The Hedgehog by piloting a vehicle based on the first boss of Sonic 1.  The one with the giant ball that must be avoided.  However, the physics to controlling and moving the ball are so loose and imprecise it can be difficult to swing it in order to hit the tiny hero character.  That in itself is frustrating, but the concept behind the very boss battle is also, well, flawed.  Crow is meant to function mechanically as a boss in this battle and should be fighting against a character as capable as one featured in a typical 2D platformer.  Yet this bee character has the ability to summon giant pillars that Crow must topple and the ability to lob homing bullets.  Both of which feel like abilities that would be reserved for traditional bosses, not hero characters.

This hints at a greater problem I have with this game.  That it rarely ever feels like a true role reversal of a 2D platformer beyond its core concept.  From the most basic level, Crow is build and controls like a hero character, and the way he moves through the stages is unmistakably similar to how a hero character would as well.  By failing to follow up on the game’s core concept, the whole game comes off as feeling rather uncreative and unambitious, unable to achieve its full potential, and unable to focus in on what an action platformer with reversed roles would, could, and should be.

This is further demonstrated by a lack of secondary mechanics to support Crow’s status as a villain.  While he does have his own airship base filled with various minions, the minions never do anything, the airship never feels like a villain’s lair in the traditional sense, and even the way in which Crow upgrades himself, gaining more hearts and grenade ammo, feels like something that would be equally appropriate for a hero character to do.  It may be possible that I am judging the game based on unfair expectations, but the base of the game and majority of the stages are so thoroughly okay that I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like if the game were more mechanically daring.

With regards to its presentation, Nefarious fares better, but is a good example of why a consistent art style is very important for pretty much any game.  Quite honestly, the reason I was interested in this game in the first place was due to how some of the artwork was from Gashi-Gashi, a prolific and incredibly talented Japanese artist whose expressive characters and excellent shading have made him one of my favorite artists of all time.  However, he only did portrait and promotional artwork for the game, while the backgrounds and 2D character models were handled by different artists and look rather bland in comparison.  

This only adds to the game’s lack of polish.  While I can look at every aspect of this game’s aesthetic, form its character designs, animations, backgrounds, and even soundtrack, and view them as being good on their own, together they just do not mesh as well as they should.  It is the downside of having different artists with different styles all producing aspects for a single product, and is actually rather unfortunate to see.

In fact, unfortunate is a word that I cannot help but associate with Nefarious.  This writing, this art, these character designs, and those music all seem like they should belong to a more concise and clever game.  However, its unambitious approach to its very design and lack of fundamental polish that one would expect from a final release prevent the game from being as quality or remarkable as it should be.  It is a decent platformer with a share of frustrations, a few memorable moments, and a good personality, but not quite enough to warrant a look in a market so saturated with quality games.

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