2D animated action platformers are hardly anything new, but in the case of Nefarious, there’s an interesting flip-side concept to lean on. You see, instead of playing as the good guys, Nefarious throws players into the boots of the opposition. That’s right! Here, you get to play as the princess-kidnapping villain, wreaking havoc along the way. The premise alone is fairly intriguing, but when it comes to a solid platformer, the weight of the adventure rests upon the gameplay, and sadly, this is where Nefarious falls somewhat flat on its compelling face.
If you, like me, have been playing platformers since Mario’s first outing, you’ll know all too well that the idea of saving a princess has been tried and tested, time and time again. However, being able to actually kidnap unsuspecting royalty flips the script on its head. The antagonist in question is a chap named Crow, a nefarious young fellow that’s got a taste for chaos and destruction. The protagonist that’s going to be getting in your way? Some Mega Man-looking individual that attempts to thwart your plans at opportune moments within.
The aim of the game is to kidnap a total of five powerful princesses in pursuit of your evil plans, something that’s achieved through completing a small selection of levels that are encompassed on a rather uninspiring, rotating world map. The end result makes for a game that feels like it could have been much, much more, but ultimately fails to do exactly what it intended to do – stand out from the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly some enjoyment to be had here if you can forgive its main issues and its slightly overpriced cost.
Nefarious costs £11.99 with a limited-time ten percent discount available for those that pre-order. Personally, after completing the game, I dare say that a price tag of £7.99 would have been a more fitting cost. Nevertheless, back on track. Prior to diving into a level, the game focuses your attention on Crow’s airship – the game’s main hub. Here, Crow can interact with his crew as well as any kidnapped princesses, visit the shop for upgrades, enjoy some restricted exploration and so forth. It’s simple stuff and doesn’t really go above and beyond.
The same can be said about the upgrades that Crow can invest in, ranging standard additions such as increased health, more ammo capacity and other like-minded unlocks. When you’re not here, you’ll be on the world map. The world map consists of hovering your aircraft through left and right movement until you’re positioned over one of the game’s few levels. Highlighting a level will show you your level-by-level stats and obtained collectibles. Again though, everything withing tends to lean on systems that we’ve seen several times before.
Obtain these collectibles, improve your level’s rank, earn currency to purchase upgrades and that’s pretty much it. There’s some secrets hidden away, but without spoiling too much for those of you that are interested, the payoff is rarely worth the effort. The true problem with Nefarious is the actual gameplay, but before I get to the cons, I want to highlight the game’s pros. I really wanted to enjoy Nefarious, and admittedly at times, I did. Sadly, these moments of enjoyment were relatively short-lived. The shame in this is that this game had potential.
The characters are memorable, the writing is passable – if cringy, there’s a decent portion of enemy variation, and the general concept is solid. The gameplay, on the other hand, is anything but. Once you’ve selected a level, you’re dropped into the stage via a neat transition that sees Crow dropped from his airship. Here, you’ll be tasked with side-scrolling until you’re at the end, oftentimes faced with a boss battle to conclude with. There’s a generous checkpoint system to lean on through each level, should you bite the dust at a regular pace.
Crow’s main attack is his mighty punch, which you’ll aim using the analog. Outside of this, there’s grenades that can be thrown at your foes using the same aiming system. With the boss sequences to the side, this is how you’ll play the game for the majority of the time. If you die, any collected loot up until that point will be left behind in the spot that you failed, in a box that you’re able to collect on your next run. Most of the game’s enemies are focused on the theme of each kingdom, and these also represent the princesses that you’re kidnapping.
I quite enjoyed seeing a healthy serving of foes to tackle head-on, ranging; droids, police, samurai, large cannons, and much more. There’s a nice collection of obtainable items to pick up on most of the levels, which will mainly appeal to those of you that enjoy chasing max completion. Chests are also peppered throughout too, in which you can punch them open to retrieve additional currency. With the boss battles to the side, Nefarious doesn’t really get any deeper than that as far as its gameplay is concerned, despite some added mechanics.
By added mechanics, I mean a few levels that attempt to break up the pace of the game. The problem here, again, is that the gameplay and controls let Nefarious down. For instance, there’s a level that sees you dropping to the depths of the ocean in search of secret treasure. What makes this level especially irritating is that there’s absolutely no depth to it, and it handles about as well as a lizard on ice. The controls are just far too floaty and imprecise that it makes taking damage almost inevitable. The same can be said about the levels in general.
Crow has a slight slide to his moment, making the platforming sections in particular a very tedious and frustrating ordeal. The combat is relatively bare, consisting of nothing more than punching your opposition until they explode. In fact, most things between your start point and the end point serve to piss you off more than anything else. Bounce pads, for example, don’t always register your control input, and when we take into account that many of these are hovering over death-drops, you can form a picture as to how annoying simple traversal is.
Credit does go to one level that sees you riding on the back of a horse alongside a high-speed train. I had more fun during this one level than the entire game as a whole, make of that what you will. Still, I pressed on. The boss battles prove to be interesting and spice things up a bit. The dynamics of these fights tend to pull from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, but instead of playing as the little guy against massive mech, you’re in the mech, and dishing out a beating like never before. Some of these encounters are quite well developed, others, not so much.
Once again, however, the problem doesn’t seem to sit with the design of these encounters, but rather with the imprecise controls. Had Nefarious been polished up a bit more, had a better structure and had better handling, and possible more length, we could have been looking at something much better. The game does try to stand out, such as when each princess (or prince for that matter) bestows you with their powers. The issue here is that these few interesting elements are done and gone before you can truly enjoy them.
It would have been nice to see these powers return, but the game only allows you to harness these powers for level-specific scenes. On the visual and audio front, Nefarious is passable. There’s some stand-out levels within, but the majority of them are generic and bland. The same can be said about the game’s audio. There’s just nothing memorable here, making for an overall adventure that comes across quite bland. It’s a valiant effort, for sure, but much of the game’s innovation is bogged down by the aforementioned, persistent problems.
Nefarious is a game that could have been much more than what it is. Instead, what we get is an adventure that does something wrong for everything it gets right. Despite its interesting bad-guy concept, Nefarious handles about as well as a lizard on ice. There’s some good ideas running through the game, but it’s ultimately bogged down by some poor design choices and an overall lack of refinement.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.