There is no doubt, that the age old plot of a princess being kidnapped, and you, the hero, having to go rescue her, has been done to death. The good folks at StarBlade have therefore taken it upon themselves to twist this tired old trope around in their new game. Starting life as a kickstarter way back in 2014, and originally planned for a Wii U release, Nefarious – a new platformer, in which you get to be the bad guy – has now seen release on the Switch instead!
The story wastes no time, as it starts off with you, the villainous Crow, who is up to his no good scemes. He has taken princess Mayapple hostage making his getaway with her. The game quickly sets the tone with its witty dialogue as it isn’t long before you are confonted by the hero, Mack, Crow’s arch-enemy, who is… not even gonna try to stop you. Yeah, you heard that right. He has gotten tired of rescuing his princess over and over again – something I’d honestly wish Mario took a hint from – and is just going to let you get away with her. Right after breaking up with her, of course. And stating that he has real crimes to attend!
Then, that’s it, right? You successfully got away with the princess and no one is seemingly trying to stop you. You’ve won… right? Weeeell, not exactly, for it seems that our dear nefarious Crow has something bigger up his sleeve. As it turns out, just one princess isn’t quite enough for the guy this time around. Nay, he needs the ancient magical power of no less than 5 princesses in order to power his doomsday contraption and conquer the world. So with his loyal minions in tow, he travels through 5 kingdoms (including the one he already went through) to make this plan happen.
Introducing infamous princess kidnapper: Crow!
The cleverly written dialogue continues to be witty throughout, poking fun at both itself and videogame tropes as a whole.
You begin slightly building relationships with the royal girls you capture and at one point, princess Mayapple even walks up to you and begs you to think about what you are doing. She says that you don’t have to go this far. Not as a terrified hostage, but more as… a friend. Furthermore she is tired of being kidnapped and wants to go home, but you are so close to your goal that you won’t hear a word of it.
The trailer and witty dialogue sells the game as being a full on comedy and parody on the genre, but in reality the game also sometimes dives into some pretty deep topics. For example, what would happen if the bad guy actually succeeded with no hero there to stop him? What would happen if the maniacal plan of the villain, that is ultimately always foiled last minute by the hero, actually went through?
Nefarious is a 2D platformer and when I first saw the trailer for it, I was expecting a high octane bloodpumping action platformer. One of the kind where you constantly had to be on the run with the princess, hunted by all the heroes who’d try to stop you. Alas, this is not the case at all. Oh, the heroes from each kingdom will try to stop you, make no mistake about that. In fact, they are the boss of their respective stage, which I thought was really clever.
The stages themselves however are often dull and very uninspired, sometimes just being completely empty hallways. I mean, the third kingdom/stage has its first checkpoint 10 seconds after you start the level… Seriously? The stages can take anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes to complete. But with how dull they are, you wonder where all that time went.
The most trouble you are going to have in the stages is when the game occassionally wakes up. With that I mean that the title remembers it is actually a game, throwing an unreasonable amount of enemies at you and says ”catch!!”. It doesn’t help that enemies are extremely awkward to even hit. The enemies often get several hits in before the game agrees that you have hit them. Even worse is this issue with projectile enemies. They will either shoot homing energy balls at you or fire so quickly in succession that you’ll consider dropping your nefarious ways and call it a day. If you do die the game will take a page out of Shovel Knight and have a safe with some of your loot hover around the spot where you died.
On the contrary, one stage where I could have used some enemies, was in a later undersea stage where you are looking for treasure with the insect princess. This stage, looking like it was drawn with crayons, is just one long labyrinth. While being a visually interesting departure from the artstyle of the rest of the game, it completely lacks challenge. In it your submarine is attached to an anchor. You must use it as a tool to crush some obstacles that hinder your progression. I personally think that torpedos would be a more efficient option and it also makes your craft more awkward to handle.
The only semi-fun I had in the game were the bosses. I mean, they are easy and don’t provide much resistance, but I did think it was fun to actually be the villain and smack the hero into next week. I think most people who have even the slightest interest in this game probably got it from the advertised boss battle that parodies the classic Final Fantasy titles. Although it was fun, this battle was just as one note all the other ones: requiring minimal effort and strategic thinking to win.
I get that this game is supposed to be a parody on platformers and standard videogame tropes, but I’d wish that the game would take itself more serious. I don’t mean in the story department, but in gameplay. It feels kind of like when you watch the trailer of an action movie and get sucked in immediately. When you then finally watch it you quickly realize that the movie was not at all what you’d expected of it, which is partly on you but also means the trailer didn’t portray the game accurately, as you realize that all the good action was in the trailer.
Oh right… I suppose I should talk about the controls, too. You push B to jump, X to attack and ZR to throw grenades. Neat. In a later stage is a section where the smoke from your grenades leave a trail, which solidifies for a short time for you to use as makeshift bridges. Unlike a good game like Contra, they didn’t even provide you with a button that locks your character in position while you aim.
One thing I did find pretty clever though, was how every princess you kidnap provide you with a temporary ability while you carry her. Plus they all have a distinct personality. For example, carrying the insect princess gives you a floaty high jump and the barbaric dwarf princess lets you hurl axes.
The game does feature a skill tree, or rather, a shop. You can unlock everything from new tricks to extra lives and reduced recharge time for your grenade with the money you collect on your way. But even here I felt cheated out. Buying my first health upgrade saying ”this gives you 2 more health”, I expected two more hearts to my life bar. But nope, by ”2 more health” it meant one heart which consists of two halfs. It did also sound too generous… *grumble grumble*
I do have a list of other small questionable game designs, but they would likely come more off as nitpicking, so I’ll leave it at that.
Throughout each stage there are three crowns for you to collect, as well as a vinyl that unlocks that stage’s track for you to play on your jukebox at your airship. That’s at least something I’ll give the game, I love collectibles that reward you for being a curious explorer, it also adds to replay value.
I wish I could at least be the bringer of good news on this front, but sadly, no. If the game already faultered at gameplay and level design, then the music department is the third strike. While the music does, in some sense, fit the stage you are on, it is just as tame and lifeless as the stage. You are a big baddie, trying to conquer the world by kidnapping princesses in an action platformer, but the music hardly reflects that. It almost blatantly tries to lull you to sleep.
As soon as the first stage with the police chasing me because I napped their highness, I was expecting some high octane tunes to accompany that fact, but no… nothing. I mean I get that the self-entitled ”hero” of that stage didn’t give a damn about the fact that I kidnapped his princess again, but the music didn’t have to reflect that.
It’s funny too, because the colourful title screen is actually accompanied by a pretty wacky tune that sets the tone for what sort of misadventure you are about to embark on. But other than that one, none of the tracks in this game were the least bit memorable to me.
It is also one of those games that has voice acting… when it feels like it. By that I mean that just as the game starts, Crow’s first two lines are fully voiced, in a deep nefarious tone that actually really does a good job at conveying a comedic bad guy. However, it also gives the first impression that the whole game is going to be voiced, which you quickly learn is not the case. The voiced lines are extremely few, and very far inbetween, with Crow mostly just speaking a single line whenever he clears a stage, like ”heroes NEVER win!!”. Crow is an interesting character, and I actually like him a lot, which is more than I can say for the rest of his crew. Apart from his secretary, they have no personality, and always give you the same dialogue when you come back from a mission. So, why are they there?
As for Crow, it’s like they hired a guy to voice him, and then after the actor’s first two lines looked at their budget and realized that they were gonna break a bank if they went ahead. Sad too, as, like I stated previously, the actual dialogue is funny and quite clever, so even though I don’t expect voice acting in 2D games by default, it would have been a nice touch to have actors bring these wacky characters to life.
Especially during gameplay where characters will also occassionally chatter with each other. It had been nice if this was fully voiced so you could hear the witty dialogue while still keeping focus on the gameplay.
Visuals & Performance
I suppose I can give credit where credit is somewhat due. While foreground elements look okay, the backgrounds are, for the most part, very nice. The enemies of each level fit that stage’s theme very well. With bees coming after you in the insect kingdom, while it be ogres and tengu men in the asian themed kingdom.
The character portraits are very expressive and detailed, but they also look nothing like their actual in-game model, except maybe for Crow himself. With less graphical games like on the NES, SNES or modern retro games that harken back to those days, I wouldn’t expect such. But in a game like this it does feel a bit like they cut some corners.
Why is my head obscuring the money counter?
Like many other newly released games and pre-orders, this title is on sale at 20% less than the original price. Even then I still cannot recommend this one. Nefarious is an interesting specimen with a lot of potential to be, sure! But it is held back by a lot of vital key elements. The American release day was pushed back from September 13th to October 4th. Unless they give the game a serious overhaul though, the developer might as well convert it into a visual novel. If you really want to try to be the bad guy or just want to play the game for the humour, then I’d say wait for a bigger sale, but honestly, I would recommend you go with the comic book instead.
Funny and clever dialogue
Boring uninspired stages