Nefarious was one of those games that seemed to have sneaked by me. Released in January this year, this game was Kickstarted and successfully went through Steam Greenlight to make it onto the store pages. Now, the concept of playing as a villain isn’t exactly new but getting it right does take some work and Nefarious seems to be hitting it in all the right places.
Insert "Came in like a Wrecking Ball" pun here.
To give you a quick overview, the game’s main core attraction is the old style 2D side-scrolling platformer with ‘reverse-boss battles’ in which you play as the “boss” of the level. There are several nods to the Sonic the Hedgehog games including the boss fight itself which some may find either nostalgic or a trite irritating. You may come in like a wrecking ball, but the wrecking ball’s physics likely has other ideas. However, while the reverse-boss battles do work, they take some getting used to and feel a tad more like a very cool, heart pounding mini game which, at least in my opinion, isn’t all that bad.
Gameplay outside of the boss battles tends to be a bit weird. When it works, it works wonderfully well and you feel connected to the character as he runs, jumps and grenade jumps. It feels like an old Megaman game. However, there are times when some of the mechanics work totally against you. To be fair, this was partially forewarned in a few of the negative Steam reviews that repeatedly tell you that Nefarious is not worth your money, so there must be some truth in it, right? Well, there is some truth to it. Some. Grenade jumping, especially with the suspended grenades can be a hit or miss, literally. The basic mechanic is that as long as your character, Crow, is near a grenade, pressing the jump key will detonate the grenade immediately, giving him a boost in jump height, much like you would do with the demoman and his grenades or sticky bombs in Team Fortress 2. Unfortunately, they’ve added a bit of slipperiness to the running mechanism. This means you will sometimes not land or jump exactly where you would be wishing to and you might fly off a cliff or not land on one of the suspended grenades. In the early game, I had brushed off this issue as the reviewer simply not having enough skill or adaptability. By the late game I came to realize what he meant. The problem lies in the need to tighten to controls a bit more and perhaps actually getting a controller; I played using a keyboard, so ghosting might have been an issue (where you can press no more than 2 keys at a time). But by my second playthrough though, I had more or less mastered the controls. True, they’re not perfect but with a bit more grit and practice, you’ll eventually actually understand how the controls work and figure out how to nail the various grenade jumps you’ll need. I will agree that the slipperiness is definitely an issue though since you can and will slide to your death.
Grenade jumps for fun and profit.
The game itself while short, doesn’t feel that way. Playing it, I felt like I was binge watching an entire season of any TV show. Very much feels like when you were playing an old Playstation One game for hours on end; you wanted to know how the story progresses and what happens next. Nefarious does that well and while the initial story arc felt pretty bland and boring, it actually works very well as a set up for the next stages and the various character interactions.
One of the defining things about the game I felt was the music. I could go on and on about how the art style of the game is partially based on references to older, more popular games and how cutesy it looks but I won’t, since that will speak for itself. The music definitely works well and can be quite comedic on its own. For instance, you’ve a level where in the intro section, you have singing yaks (or huge bison?) and they just belt out the starting parts of their stage song. Some of the songs work well for their respective levels and they don't really work elsewhere, though you’re welcome to listen to the track if you’ve managed to find the vinyl collectible for it by turning on your jukebox while on Crow’s ship. A wonderful example of Nefarious's songs is Crow’s Theme, which is a jazzy, broadway tune. Its a nice change as when compared to a lot of other games’ EDM, dubstep and heavy metal tracks. The final boss music is also definitely one of the game's more iconic songs. That and the turn-based boss fight music are real gems. (A bit of a spoiler there, sorry. But it needs to be mentioned!)
'Cos you know... it's 2017 and stuff...
The thing that actually got me really into the game was the character interactions. By playing off villain tropes and the 'Bowser kidnaps the princess' type tropes, the game actually has a wonderful setting ready for their stars and the lines delivered by each of the cast seems downright hilarious as they mock the usual hero-villain conventions we’ve come to learn from playing Super Mario, Sonic and other games in which you’ve got to save a princess or something. The main villain Crow is definitely a good character. A self-proclaimed genius and at times, rightfully so, but he can be a bit daft at other times though it comes across naturally rather than an obvious nod to humour. The other characters, namely the princesses and one prince (Crow is an equal opportunity kidnapper) all have very well fleshed out personalities and play off each other very well.
The icing on the cake is most definitely the interactions between Crow, Mayapple (Princess Peach replacement) and her designated hero Mack (a sort of Rocket Knight, sword wielding version of Megaman / Zero a la Megaman / Rockman). Their usual cycle of Crow kidnapping Mayappple and Mack foiling Crow is broken when Mack accuses Mayapple of secretly seeing Crow more than dating Mack. Obviously, Mack does not seem to understand how a kidnapping works. This interaction is made even more comedic when Mack leaves Crow to successfully kidnap Mayapple and they return to Crow’s ship. Because the kidnapping is so routine, even the ship’s crew and Crow’s assistant Becky know what food Mayapple likes to eat and actually allow her to roam the ship freely. This is just an example of the insanity in Nefarious and the best bit is that there is a method to it and it definitely works.
There is a slight issue though. While you can talk with anyone on the ship, the only ones with dialogue that change as you progress through the game are STABILE (the shop bot), Becky and the princesses (and prince). Your minions literally say the same things throughout the entire gameplay and I’m not sure whether that is another hidden trope or deliberately done to save time and effort. I think the latter. However, that is a very small problem in an otherwise good game.
For another type of gamer
I think for all it’s worth, Nefarious does have another small issue. It caters specifically to gamers who are aware of an earlier era of games where 2D was king and saving princesses was all the rage for some reason. So, that means older gamers or gamers who’ve bothered to play old titles like Sonic and Super Mario. There is a possibility that a lot of the tropes and references might fly over the heads of the younger players although the game’s Steam review index seems to indicate otherwise. I do still feel that in order to fully appreciate Nefarious’s jokes, you do need to at least be aware of some of the norms that were set up by these older games.
Uhh....he called in sick?
For all the faults and despite the reasonably short length of the game, I would definitely still recommend the game. There is enough humour there that isn’t solely related to tropes that it’ll work. This isn’t the sort of game you play because the mechanics are good or that the soundtrack and art are amazing. No, you would play this just to see how Crow deals with the royalty he’s kidnapped and how he deals with being rejected by his nemesis, well okay, sort of rejected. You want to see how far a villain in this particular world can get and what happens next. This game is driven by their characters and that’s quite something else. Let me put it this way, if there was new material for Nefarious either in game form or otherwise, I’d buy it immediately. It’s that good. That said though, the team that put Nefarious together have Kickstarted a comic series based on the game. So, I’ll be leaving you with this review while I pop off to go buy a comic. Long story short, if you’re into games with role reversals and are a fan of a game with good stories, better humor and lovely characters, this game is for you.
Every now and then the villain does have a point, yes?