Review | Nightmare Boy

Nightmare Boy is full of Halloween delights but is nightmarishly difficult.

It’s that time of year again folks, and it’s time to whip out some spoOoOoky games. There are quite a few games that released this year and one in particular caught my eye. Nightmare Boy piqued my interest primarily because it looks like everything from a Halloween shop smashed into a game. We’ve got skeletons, zombies, witches and graveyards — even the moon looks freaky.

I was sold on the looks of this title alone and decided to take a trip to the Nightmare realm. What I found was a classic experience with some tough-as-nails gameplay. I will be up front and say that I suck at this game. Nightmare Boy is challenging, even on easy, and I died more times than I care to admit. However, if you are the type who doesn’t mind dying a few dozen times and loves the theme, there is plenty of brain matter to chew in Nightmare Boy.

Nightmare Boy is a Metroidvania action/platformer, Metroidvania meaning that it has a sprawling map with multiple areas to explore. Some of these areas require certain special abilities to be accessed. It’s basically a way of staggering difficulty and ramping up complexity. To Nightmare Boy’s credit, it doesn’t really hold back on giving you powers and spells right from the beginning. I had double jump and a weird summoned minion within about my first hour of playing.

The core of the game is two-fold: jumping and combat. The jumping aspects are probably the areas that I had the most trouble with. The developer mentions that the game has tight, responsive controls, but I didn’t find this as much as I would have liked. The problem primarily lies with air time, or that moment between falling off the platform and pressing ‘jump’, like the coyote’s moment of suspension in those old cartoons; there is no air time in this game at all. So I found myself thinking I had pressed jump at the correct time and instead fell to my death. Another thing that led to a constant amount of deaths was that damage stopped your momentum completely. This was a huge culprit of many deaths due to spikes. Enemies fly across the screen constantly and aim to get in your way.

While I had a gripe with these issues personally, I wouldn’t hold it against the game. Nightmare Boy is just a difficult experience, and it wants to be. Combat, though, is as dicey at times as the platforming aspects. Enemies re-spawn at a constant rate and reappear as soon as you leave the screen or practically whenever you turn around. Your only attack, other than spells, is punching everything to death. Most of the monsters are easy to kill at first, but if they happen to hit you, they do a massive amount of damage.

Then you have the bosses. Bosses all have attack patterns and this really holds true to that retro gameplay. What separates easy from medium is the number of health bars they have and how much damage they can do. Needless to say, I recommend starting on easy in this game, as most bosses on medium can annihilate your health bar quickly.

Punching in Nightmare Boy sometimes felt weird, as enemies charge towards you and stop dead in place when you punch them. I wish the kid had a bat or something to separate himself from the enemies a tad. As you progress, you get access to: more spells, like fireball; ghost blades; and more health etc. This hits the checkbox on the Metroidvania aspects and comes along with what you expect in that type of game. As you explore the map, your goal is to find and free a bunch of kids, complete quests and beat all the bosses.

Like I said before, Nightmare Boy looks to capture retro gameplay and it certainly does that, for better or worse. I liked the game, even though I sucked at it. Could it have been a smoother experience? Absolutely. If I have any serious complaint about the game, it’s that reloading from death takes far too long. I’m talking about a good five-to-ten seconds black screen while you reload. This led me to some serious rage quits.

The rest of Nightmare Boy falls nicely into place.

The entire game is hand-drawn and it really shows. I loved the artist’s style and use of color. Nightmare Boy doesn’t always stick to what you know and isn’t afraid to stretch the animation. This is a nightmare realm, after all. Keep in mind, though, that it never crosses the line into gory or overly dark themes. It is fun-and-bright scary more than make-you-hide-behind-a-blanket scary. Being the primary thing that drove me to play this title, I wasn’t disappointed at all in the graphics and animations. They are all top notch.

The same goes for the music, which creates a great atmosphere. While I wish I had had a chance to hear more, what I did manage to hear was good. The sound effects did more than enough to get the point across. Perhaps I will dare to venture further after growing some of my hair back.

Which brings me to another gripe with this game. The bloody story is taxing. Nightmare Boy REALLY needs a skip button on its dialogue, as the text boxes are dreadfully slow. Every time I had to save, it took far longer to start up a conversation with the book keeper than to actually save my game. I can understand that you want to engross your players in the universe, but you can pick up the pace a wee bit? From what I have gathered of the story, though, it seems interesting. One of the bosses is a flying pillow with a mustache, for Pete’s sake. Don’t see that every day.

There is no hand-holding in Nightmare Boy.

When it comes to replay value and how long it is to beat, I couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that the game lets you explore at your own pace and choosing to go down just one path is a hard choice. Backtracking is far from easy with the cadre of traps, monsters, and slow re-loads waiting for you. So choose wisely 

Nightmare Boy is a great choice if you are looking to play something with spooky themes and unforgiving gameplay. It’s pretty much on-the-nose when it comes to the genre and innovation, and doesn’t veer off course. I would recommend it to fans of old retro games that kicked you while you were down as you begged for more. The price of entry is certainly not too steep and I think there is plenty to be got out of it. So enjoy and stay spooky, my friends!

Badland GamesNightmare BoyPCThe Valnir Project
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