Ever play a video game, face off against the last boss, bring an end to his vicious schemes, and then thought “I could’ve done a better job than that”? Well, now you can, with the 2D action-platformer Nefarious flipping the script and putting you in the shoes of the antagonist. It’s a novel idea and one that makes for an enjoyable gameplay experience…. well… outside of the awkward controls and technical issues, that is.
Nefarious puts you in the role of Crow – the game’s ‘hero’ and all-around bad guy. Yep, in this game you’re playing the antagonist, and that means kidnapping the princesses and being a general sh*thead to everyone around you. There’s a real wicked reason why Crow is after the princesses though, with their blood proving vital to one of his evil schemes.
It’s a stereotypical ‘evil villain’ plotline, but the fact that you’re the brains behind the operation and not the one trying to bring it down adds a fun twist to the formula. It’s full of stereotypes, clichés, and nods to classic gaming villains too, but it’s presented in a charming way where you get to see the heinous plans from behind the scenes and appreciate everything that goes on. There’s a lot of personality on show throughout, and with the great characters and comical script it makes for a really enjoyable little tale.
Nefarious offers 2D platforming action in the traditional sense: you’ll run, jump and hit enemies as you work through a series of levels. In an interesting move, there are twin-stick elements involved where you direct your punch attacks by moving the right stick and aiming the direction that you want to hit – in theory, it seems a good idea, but in practice it’s a little clunky. Having to quickly flick the stick and hit buttons to attack just feels awkward, especially when you’re trying to actually run and jump your way through levels at the same time. It’s something you do get a bit more used to the further you progress and it can help you take down what would typically be awkward to reach enemies, but there’s no denying that it’s certainly not the most accessible way control a character’s attacking manoeuvres in a 2D platformer.
At least you have some abilities which are a lot less awkward to use and actually make for some genuinely fun platforming. You’ve got things like your blast jump which allow you to reach higher locations by using explosives, or the grenades which aren’t just handy to blast things apart but can also hits switches to open doors. Then there are the abilities that the princesses you resc-, sorry, I mean kidnap offer – it might be something such as allowing you to make your own bridges to create new pathways through levels, or even the ability to fly a little. There’s a lot going on in Nefarious as far as platforming-abilities are concerned and it really makes it a lot more enjoyable to play, especially since the combat mechanics themselves aren’t always that great.
So the core platforming of Nefarious can be a bit of a mixed bag, but fortunately it does a lot of different things that add a more enjoyable and varied touch to the overall experience. Besides being an action-platformer, it also dabbles in being an RPG, a deep-sea exploration title, and even a dating sim – yeah, it might sound like an odd mixture, but somehow it all comes together to work nicely. Nefarious is a game that’s absolutely full of charm and personality, and it’s in the diversity of its side-stuff where it’s most obvious.
Whilst Nefarious offers a lot of variety throughout the game, it’s the boss battles which I loved the most. I mean, boss battles are great in video games anyway, but in Nefarious you ARE the boss and that translates over to each showdown.
You know those big robots you’ve faced off against in video games in the past that have over-the-top powers? Or that nasty villain you’ve battled in an RPG who unleashes brutal attacks on you whilst cackling? So that’s you this time. It’s a fantastic way to handle these big battles in the game and it’s a fine example of how well the role-reversal of the hero and villain works in Nefarious. A lot of the battles are inspired by the classic encounters seen in video games of yesteryear too (there’s a cracking reference to Dr Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog for example) and they really make for enjoyable and unique gameplay experiences. Sure, some are better than others, but they’re all certainly quirky and fun in design.
Unfortunately, whilst Nefarious offers plenty of enjoyment throughout, it isn’t the smoothest experience from a technical basis. I actually got to one point of the game where it simply would not let me progress, which resulted in me having to restart the game multiple times before it somehow started working. The load times are pretty dire too, with some lengthy waits in-between areas that sees the action come to a halt. It could definitely have done with a bit of work before releasing, but at least the developers are aware of the issues so hopefully there’ll be a patch released soon.
Visually, Nefarious looks pretty good. Whilst some of the obstacles in levels can look a little plain, the backgrounds and character designs are absolutely on point and help capture the look and vibe of the 16-bit platformers from the 90s. The whole premise of the game is a little zany, and that carries over to the visual style too with vibrant colours and wacky characters in abundance – it all looks good though and the game maintains a smooth framerate throughout.
I enjoyed playing Nefarious quite a lot, but there’s no denying that it’s a flawed experience. The controls can be awkward as heck for example, whilst the technical issues and long load times could prove frustrating throughout – it definitely needs a bit of work if it’s going to reach its full potential.
However, the charming narrative, the unique and varied gameplay, and the zany boss fights did enough to make working through the flaws worthwhile. Nefarious might not be the most refined 2D platformer out there, but it is one that is fun to play and that does something different.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC