There was a time when side-scrolling platform games were the dominant genre, and as a result their heroes were catapulted to worldwide fame. They all, however, had a similar formula; battle through various themed stages, fight bosses and collect valuables to eventually defeat your arch-nemesis. As time went by and gaming evolved, it became harder to stand out in this overcrowded space so developers focused their efforts elsewhere, for the most part. Nefarious makes sure to mix things up from the very start.
You play as Crow, who is a villain and your aim is to kidnap the world’s princesses in order to take over the world. You heard me correctly, you play as the villain. Nefarious builds its whole style around this idea, and it is definitely a game that has attitude. Crow is cheeky, witty and instantly likable. He is also very confident that this time he will succeed with his evil plans, and it’s up to you to make it happen. The dialogue between characters is truly hilarious at times, and full of cheeky digs and nods to the genre. Each princess you kidnap adds a new dimension to the bantering as your flying fortress starts to populate with damsels in distress.
Levels are themed in typical platformer style, ice world, lava world etc, and look brilliant. One of the prettiest, yet most simplistic looking, is the must-have underwater level. It feels like a mix between Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong Country. You also get plenty of time to enjoy these stages, each containing roughly 15 minutes of gameplay, bar a handful that play out slightly differently later on. The game will regularly change direction to keep things fresh, and without warning. You’ll find yourself experiencing something very different to your usual platforming game, but I won’t spoil anything here.
Each level in Nefarious contains treasure chests with plenty of loot inside, and true to the game’s style, instead of having to look for a key you can simply punch your way into them. This is a nice little change to the norm, reflecting the attitude and overall feel the game is pitching. Also, each level will contain a vinyl and three hidden crowns to find. When you find the vinyl you can listen to that stage’s song on demand through you jukebox back on the flying fortress. The crowns are collectable, 3 per stage, and if you do obtain every one you’ll be rewarded with a secret ending to the game. The soundtrack is enjoyable, and clearly takes inspiration from classic titles in the genre. The only minor issue is the music is looped, but will phase out completely and then start again, rather than playing uninterrupted. It’s a small thing, but this can sometimes disrupt the flow of the game and have you incorrectly thinking you are about to face-off against a boss.
You collect coins of various denominations throughout the levels, which can be used to upgrade weapons and abilities back at base. I would recommend extending your punch range early on. It feels a bit too short to start with and it won’t take long for the enemies to come at you thick and fast. You will take hits regularly but enemies drop health frequently, so things don’t become too challenging until later on. The difficulty curve may feel slightly harsh depending on which upgrades you choose, but on the whole is pretty much bang on.
Crow controls well and jumps with a slight, Rayman-esque, float. When you die, you have an opportunity to recover your swag as you will lose coins instead of a life. In fact, you don’t have lives at all and instead a floating red coin bag will hover where you met your untimely end, which when struck will return all the coins you lost. Your amount of respawns will depend on how much cash you have collected throughout the stages. It’s a good idea to make sure you don’t spend all your money before taking on the later levels, because you’ll start to die more frequently.
The stages are well designed and enjoyable, but don’t contain anything fans of the genre won’t have seen before. I can’t criticise Nefarious too much for this as it shows originality elsewhere, and mixes things up level to level. There are, however, a few frustrating sequences where you need to use explosive purple containers to propel yourself over chasms and pools of lava and the like. Added to this is the fact that enemies will swarm around you constantly firing, and if you take a hit, you will stop mid-air and plummet to your death. Igniting the containers is a simple case of pressing the jump button again when you pass through the centre of them, but it’s not the easiest to make happen. As a result you will plunge to an untimely end a fair few times. I couldn’t quite figure out the exact time to press, but managed to fudge my way across after losing a fair bit of cash in the process. At one point it became so frustrating I abandoned exploring for secrets, and took the most direct route through the stage.
If you were a fan of platformers back in the day, you will notice that “Nefarious” is full of references. These are mainly aimed at Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog, but one battle, very unexpectedly, becomes a turn based affair…
Throughout the game you will meet, and battle, the world’s various heroes and some will seem strangely familiar. At one point, you pretty much play as Dr Robotnik from the end of Green Hill Zone, and so, if you are a fan of the blue hedgehog’s first outing, it will bring a huge smile to your face. If you aren’t, the battle is great fun anyway.
To conclude, I really enjoyed Nefarious and despite containing some familiar moments, the game makes them its own, serving as tribute to the giants of the platforming genre, rather than feeling like a rip-off. Playing as the villain puts a twist on things and is an extremely fun experience, while the gameplay is solid for the most part. This is the first game from the development team at StarBlade, making them one to watch for the future. Whether you are a fan of platformers or not, there is plenty to love here.