Nightmare Boy Nintendo Switch Review
Developer: The Vanir Project
Publisher: Badland Games
Release Date: January 16th
Price as of Article: $9.99 USD, £8.99 GBP
Nightmare Boy begins as young Billy heads off to bed. While reading his book things take a turn to the surreal as his pillow transforms into a weird, monstrous creature threatening to take Billy away to Donorok and present him as a gift to the Queen. There’s a fair bit of mumbling and names being said but because you’ve only just arrived in the game, it’s all little bit confusing at first. Who? Where? What? After the intro though, the story isn’t too much of a concern and although there are story telling elements, they don’t play a huge part in the game and you’ll spend most of your time in the gameplay rather than taking in any narrative.
Having been cursed and whisked away to this nightmare-like world, Billy has become zombie-fied and tasked with trying to somehow wake up. From there you’ll meet a handful of different characters some friendly, some not so friendly. The story kind of peters away after the beginning which is a shame but due to the often painfully slow dialogue, you’ll be rather thankful. As you explore the land you’ll come across trapped children who also can’t wake up and it seems to be your job to release them from the same nightmare as you. This does sort of come unexpectedly as I don’t remember the game explaining or mentioning trapped kids at all, I just happened upon them and suddenly it seemed like the goal of the game.
In the audio department of Nightmare Boy, it’s mostly very positive. The soundtrack has been well crafted and gives a very adventurous taste to the game. There’s always some thumping drums to make you feel like you’re on a determined mission to get to your goal no matter what. Each area has its own unique musical theme so they really haven’t cheaped out in this department and there is variety too as can be heard in the save room which has a sweet piano melody that perfectly announces that you’re in a safe area. The only negative thing I have to say about the audio is that just one sound effect really bothered me. Billy landing just sounds weird. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is, but it sounds cheap, grainy and too retro for its own good. I wouldn’t mind, but you hear it constantly. In this regard I turn the sound effects down a little and boosted the music, at which point I stopped noticing it.
Visually I think Nightmare Boy is quiet a looker. It’s retro with a modern twist, as in it would fit perfectly within the 16-bit era, thematically, but it’s modernised very well. While the environments are nice, with the lava cave section being particularly eye-catching, it’s the characters that are the stars of the show. They really pop off the screen with their vibrancy and Billy himself seems to have an extraordinary amount of animation frames. It’s just very impressive, especially in handheld mode where the Nintendo Switch screen really shows it off nicely. The addition of slight scan lines really cements the overall modern-retro look.
There is one major issue regarding performance with Nightmare Boy in its current state. It’s unfortunate to report that this game suffers from some severe stability issues. During my playtime I encountered multiple game crashes that sent me right back to the Switch’s home screen. Most of them happened in the exact same spot every time and stunted my progress in the game. After three crashes I decided to restart my Switch and try again. It crashed one more time in the same place but the next time was successful. It again later crashed almost at the end of the game. Each time it crashed I lost a fair bit of progress thanks to the saving system I’ll mention later. Having to keep trekking through the same area just for it to keep crashing every time really took its toll on my enthusiasm for the game, which is a huge shame because up until that point I was thoroughly enjoying my time with it. As it’s built using the Unity Engine, something well known for it’s unstableness, it’s just shame that it impacted my time with it. It seems the developers have been made aware of it so a patch may be incoming in the future.
The thing about the gameplay of Nightmare Boy is that it takes me back to an older time, back to the mid-90’s on the Super Nintendo or Mega Drive when these action platformers were basically every game ever. It’s both a blessing and a curse at times. You walk around on a 2D plane jumping around on platforms, taking out enemies with your physical attack and collecting gems. It has a Metroidvania style to the gameplay too, where the more you progress, the more abilities you receive and more areas you’re able to reach.
The special ability you’re given off the bat is a fireball for attacking at further distances. The game moves at a fast pace and so you’re never really too far away from acquiring the next one, usually after a boss or rescuing one of the many children. It won’t be long until you’ll get a nice wall jump, double jump, a defensive shield and even more powerful magic attacks. These all take up energy so you can’t spam them all you want, but it your energy bar does regenerate over time.
Initially the game makes a very poor impression, the starting area really does not show the strong points of the gameplay at all. The first five minutes of playing this I was genuinely preparing for the worst. The camera screen movements as Billy jumps up and down and turns direction is frankly stomach churning. Now, in practice for the most part of the game it’s not so noticeable as you’re not constantly jumping up and down in the same parts or quickly turning. For some reason, as you’re getting used to the controls, the intro is exactly that. I was having flashbacks of the worst kinds of mascot platforms of the past. Not only that but in the first area the amount of enemies that fly at you is insane compared to the rest of the game. It’s just an epileptic attack on the senses and you wonder what you’ve got yourself into.
Once you’re out of the first area, though, the game is much more pleasant. Very good, in fact. The controls are a little slippery and the camera movement is still over exuberant at times, but once you’re in more well designed areas the game comes to life. You quickly move from area to area, and you’re never too far away from an exciting, unique boss battle, one of the game’s highlights. It provides a solid challenge too, standard enemies are rather aggressive but it’ll be the boss battles that will provide the greatest test of your skills. You’ll be cursing at times, but when you do finally nail that difficult part you’ll feel so good.
Another thing that adds to the difficulty is the very interesting gimmick of killing the many harmless Mongos who dwell peacefully in this nightmare world. Right from the beginning you’ll see colourful Mr. Potato Head style creatures waddling around minding their own business, even with enemies around. You can kill them. It’s not until a short while later you discover that they are kind of angry at you massacring their kin. They’ll forgive you this time for your naivety though, but won’t forgive you again. Accidentally (or purposely) kill one again and you’ll be struck with a blow from the Mongo guardian, Mongano. This can be quite troublesome as sometimes it seems almost impossible to not kill them as they walk across in the middle of a fight. I really find this an interesting concept even though it’s equally as frustrating. You don’t take a huge amount of damage, but it can still interfere with the combat and seem unfair at times. On the other hand you do have to play slightly more cautiously and tactically, perhaps biding your time before you strike to allow the little Mongo to pass by safely.
To add to the difficulty just a little, there’s no autosave feature. You must manually save in intermittent save rooms administered by the Grim Reaper. Oddly enough, you must pay to save your game with the gems you collect. Every time you save, the price goes up. This sounds horrendous, but in actuality it’s rather insignificant as you’ll be collecting far more gems than you’ll be able to spend saving your game. The big problem is that manual saves in certain areas does not mix well with the aforementioned crashes. You could lose some serious time if you’re unlucky or careless.
As for value, the game’s starting price is £8.99 which compared to a lot of the competition out there, is a very fair price. You get more bang for your buck here than with most other games of a similar ilk on the Nintendo Switch. In addition, I think Nightmare Boy has room for replayability with its multiple endings depending on what you collect and which dialogue options you select. So in my opinion Nightmare Boy represents great value for your money.
Great audio and visuals
Boss battles are fun and frequent
Slightly slippery controls
Excessive screen movement
Too many crashes