When reviewing games I always make a conscious effort to try and experience as much of the content as I can before putting pen to paper. Even if I’m not feeling a game right away, I try to persevere and get a fair and balanced perspective on what it has to offer. Unfortunately in some cases there are games that do so many things wrong that I just have to put the control down and step away for a while. From the time I spent with ‘Nightmare Boy’ I can see that it was made with good intentions, however it simply suffers from too many niggling problems and some misguided design choices. This is a pity as publishers ‘Bad Land Games’ have a number of gems in their back catalogue, so my expectations were for this title to be at least half decent.
‘Nightmare Boy’ refers to a young lad named Billy who has been dragged into his nightmare by a pillow monster. The monster transforms Billy into the image of a nightmare prince in order to win the affections of a queen. Unfortunately for him this doesn’t go quite as planned, as he fails to wipe Billy’s memory, making it impossible for him to convince the queen that Billy really is the long lost nightmare prince. The pillow abandons Billy in the nightmare world to fend for himself, leaving him to fight his way through bosses and rescue other children in order to obtain new abilities.
‘Nightmare Boy’ is structured as a Metroidvania, however the art style and animation remind me a lot of classic Amiga platformers such as ‘Zool’. The various sprites and assets are all drawn with a limited colour pallet so there is no subtle shading, but instead all the images are made from blocks of solid colour. I have mixed feeling about the graphics as a whole. Some of the assets look great on their own and I really like the animation in character movement. There are some large assets such as the moon and death that look incredible. However, when all the assets are mashed together on the screen everything looks a bit messy and uncoordinated. It’s not a great looking game, but it does contain glimmers of decent artwork.
When I first started playing I noticed that there was a filter adding CRT style scan lines to the image. I went to the option screen and saw a filter toggle which I assumed would turn it off. It turns out that it doesn’t turn the filter off, it instead enhances it and adds additional effects. If I was being cynical I would guess that the reason this filter is mandatory is to help cover up flaws in the graphics.
After discovering that this wasn’t the prettiest game in the world, the next issue I stumbled across was with the story, specifically the writing. The plot itself I do not have a problem with, however the dialogue reads as if it was written by someone with little experience at story telling. All of the plot points are hammered away at repeatedly with very little subtlety, as a result the dialogue section seem drawn out. Also whenever you begin a dialogue sequence for the first time there is no way of skipping or speeding it up.
So I make it past the opening cut scene, come to terms with the graphics and the dialogue, and now it’s time to actually start playing the game… and this is where the bigger problems began. I held down ‘right’ on the D-pad, and didn’t move. I checked the options again to take a look at the control settings. It turns out that…
(a) There aren’t any control settings, just a set of instructions explaining what the default controls are with no way of changing them.
(b) Movement is controlled by the analogue stick, not the D-pad. Let that sink in, a 2D platform game with analogue stick controls. If there is a list of golden rules when making a platform game, D-pad controls as standard should be one of them.
There wasn’t anything I could do to fix it so I tolerated this set up as best I could.
Analogue stick aside, Billy’s movement is a little light and slippy. It’s difficult to be really precise with your steps and jumps due to the momentum, however it isn’t game breaking. Billy can attack using sweeping punches in addition to special abilities such as projectiles which can be used in exchange for power. It’s essentially a poor man’s Guacamelee.
The bosses are pretty creative and goofy, although the battles themselves do feel a bit handicapped due to the slippy controls and tricky collision. I died a lot during some of the encouters, not because I thought the fights were particularly difficult, but because I struggled to be precise with my movements.
All this aside, there were two design choices in this game which really rubbed me up the wrong way. Early on you are introduced to dream creatures who are seemingly innocent and require your protection. Should you attack them you get penalized, which is fair enough. The only issue is that after you discover that you are not meant to hurt them the stages become littered with the little buggers. They are jammed into the narrow corridors along with the enemies who are attacking you, making it nearly impossible to avoid hurting them while defending yourself. I gave up trying in the end and focused on my own survival over protecting them. It was a stupid inclusion that adds nothing of merit to the gameplay.
Finally, we come to the most egregious issue. In addition to killing baddies you spend a lot of time collecting gems that are scattered around the landscape. These gems are used as currency, however it’s utilized in one of the most bizarre ways I’ve ever seen in a game. As you explore around you’ll occasionally find a Death room where you can save the game, however each time you save you have to pay Death a fee. I can’t just save the game whenever I want, I have to make sure I have enough gems to do it. If this isn’t bad enough, the amount of gems you have to pay increases each time you save. This game actively discourages you from saving it! Saving should be nothing more than a utility for the player’s convenience. People’s circumstances are different and it may be beneficial for some people to save more often than others. What if you don’t find a lot of time to game throughout the day and can only play in short bursts? This is a straight up awful decision and demonstrates how misguided this game is.
Despite all of this title’s flaws, it’s technically stable and demonstrates some ambition on behalf of the developers. There were certainly signs of potential, however poor design choices have hampered what could otherwise have been a half decent game. ‘Nightmare Boy’ may appeal to a small audience, but personally it’s not for me.
Last minute update: Since playing ‘Nightmare Boy’, Bad Land Games have taken on board a lot of feedback and have made a few improvements. The most recent patch claims to have improved the controls for more precise movement and have made updates to the dialogue in some of the languages (although this may not include the English dialogue). Hopefully, if more fixes are made over time I’ll happily revisit it. However before I consider playing this again I would really like to see D-pad functionality and free saves.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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