When we rest our heads at night, we all want pleasant dreams, the one that has us winning the gold, getting the girl and other outlandish things, but from time to time, nightmares are going to happen. Billy has a nightmare to beat all others, he has been cursed and left in the nightmare realm.
When Billy is transformed he is abandoned in the nightmare realm, the land known as Donorok and after Balder, the guy who looks like a pillow has left Billy here, you must make your way out of the world. But it is soon discovered that there are other kids trapped within Donorok, but unlike you, they have no powers. Balder is seeking any child who finds there way to the realm and after the remaining Prince discovers you and agrees to aid you, the world is then open for you to explore.
The gameplay is very Metroidvania inspired, its not a perfect example of the genre, but it does work well enough, as you explore the world, more and more of it will be available to you, given that you will earn new spells and abilities as you progress, there are some parts that will be walled off for now. Combat is handled in a very different manner, you can use energy to shoot at enemies from a distance, but you can also get in close for some in your face fisticuffs but getting to close to most enemies will end with you taking damage. It is a balancing act to be sure, however you are going to want to get close, because if you do when the enemies die, you will be able to collect gems and coins, these are important later.
The problem with the games fighting is that you need to get close but doing so will result in death and it will happen a lot. The learning curve here is brutal, if it’s not enemies getting in a few hits, its rooms full of spikes or other dangers causing problems. As you die, you will respawn at your most recent save, which costs money, thus the need for the gems, as each time you save, the cost increases. The worst combination of this is when you die on a boss fight, you get sent back to the last save, which is never near where you died, almost every other metroidvania game will leave a save point, very close to a boss room and while dying is a pain, its having to fight your way back through all of the enemies again to get back to the boss.
The problem with all that combined is that the game is slow, very slow to begin with, the amount of times I died with cheap deaths, thanks to a lucky hit was frustrating to say the least, though while the game does pick up pace a few hours in, it still takes a lot of effort to get to that point and there were times where I wanted to rage quit. Saving is important, but as it uses gems to do it, you need to balance your save points with the upgrades you can purchase, the early upgrades are cheap enough to allow you to obtain a few, but once you start to look deeper, the required gems is quite a lot. You will thankfully be able to obtain new powers and skills once you defeat a boss and have save a kid, the skill you get though, is usually something you need to progress, so don’t expect anything to earth shattering.
Where Nightmare Boy excels and falls apart is with its presentation, the game sports a pixel look and the attention to detail is wonderful. The problem is the game feels like it has ripped 90’s skater street art and applied it to a video game and there are times, when it feels out of place. Each of the characters is designed really well, the problem is, the designs inspiration lacks originality, which becomes apparent once you encounter the first boss. The NPC’s like the Mongos are cute enough to offset the rest, but they are about the only things, the kids you rescue are very generic, the world itself is just the same. The strange part is, the visuals, while not the best, still work exceptionally well for the game that is being offered and when you combine it, with a the games inspired score, it feels like 90’s nostalgia.
Nightmare Boy is a game that will find an audience for those who appreciate the metroidvania style of game, but with a little more challenge and a little less exploring. It offers a great time from start to finish, it is however a little to quickly, with no real reason to go back in and play through a second time. What the team have crafted is a game that has an incredible foundation, but still has lots of potential, if they do a sequel, I will be there day one to give it a try.
Thanks to Badland Games for supplying the game