The problem with Nightmare Boy is the scope of what the developer is trying to do and the fact that the ideas they have seem too plentiful for what they produced. This is a game that struggles to communicate its identity; does it want to be a Metroidvania style platformer? Does it want to be a challenging 2D scroller, like Salt & Sanctuary? Or does it want to be a charming, albeit more grown up, version of the games we played in the 16-Bit era? And there lies the problem.
The opening of Nightmare Boy leads the player to believe that what follows on from the bizarre intro will be a game of humour, maybe some whimsy; all skinned with a dark cartoon style reminiscent of comic books from the nineties. The design is quite inspired and really helps give the game character, something not in lacking at all. The entire cast is bold, colourful and individual which suits the concept of little boy dragged into a nightmare world.
It’s in this nightmare world that we must travel, in order to get back to the real world, because our small protagonist finds himself in a case of mistaken identity. It’s a very simple story and really takes second place to the concepts of platforming and facing giant bosses. Unfortunately, neither of those features holds enough grunt to carry the game.
The platforming of jumping – double, standard and wall – and dispatching enemies is fine, but not quite tight enough to be outstanding. Getting hit by an enemy feels jarring, triggering i-frames that leaves you feeling a bit useless, almost floundering. Admittedly as the game progresses the movement starts to feel a little more comfortable, but we’re not looking at something that emulates Mario or any new twitch platformer, it sits a little awkwardly in the middle.
Then come the bosses which, like so many games at the moment, feel ripped out of the minds of Dark Souls developer, FromSoft. The problem with this is, these large scale battles between underpowered hero and hulking monster just doesn’t work in this game. The battles have great scope, the bosses are well designed, but without an inventory to play with or armour and weapons to combine, it just feels too flat. There’s not much spark, it’s… for lack of a better term, soulless.
The saving system of checking in at certain places feels dated and archaic when compared to the concept of the game. The levels themselves are a bit too linear; the drive to head off and explore either doesn’t appear when it could or ends with a pop, rather than the bang of surprise or discovery. After only a handful of hours I started to feel disconnected and lost interest, not wanting to pick up my Switch and play, meaning I couldn’t explore the world they’d created and the style that has been crafted.
Overall I’m torn between wanting to champion something that features nice design and wanting to dwell on the missed opportunities or lack of spark. In a world of tight platformers with wonderful scales of difficulty, Nightmare Boy will just end up lost among the others who are top of the class.
The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – Switch
For more on our scoring policy, please read this post. Review based on code supplied by PR.