Nefarious

This game proves that above all else, games need good controls in order to be good.

The premise of Nefarious is pretty interesting. You control Crow, the villain of a particular video game world. He’s used to kidnapping a princess, running to his massive airship base, and dealing with the hero, Mack, who would of course endeavor to save the princess (Mayapple), who also happens to be his girlfriend. You play through the starting level as Crow, avoiding police and other defenders of the city, before confronting Mack, who…

breaks up with the princess and says Crow can have her.

Crow opts to go steal a total of 5 difference princesses in order to use their combined royal energies and power his super ultimate weapon. This leads to several engagements that draw on various video games for inspiration in fun and sometimes imaginative ways. There’s a level where you fight an obvious Sonic the Hedgehog expy (eerily similar copy), another where you engage in an RPG battle as the final boss, etc. The concept is a lot of fun.

It’s buoyed by some good characterization. Sometimes the writing falls a little flat, usually when it’s trying too hard to make some clever reference or joke, but each princess does feel as if she’s got a little personality to her, and the game makes an effort to give them all the time to shine. Crow gets to chew up the scenery, sure, but we also get some of his backstory and see that he donates to the Villain Museum so that people can properly learn about villainy. Mayapple is arguably the character who gets the most development, moving from captured princess to potential mastermind.

The brilliant attempts at humor, everyone

The graphics are going to be a love or hate situation. I happen to like them, though at times they do feel a little like a flash game ripped from Newgrounds. They have this sort of fun animation style to them, like watching a modestly budgeted animated show, that I kind of love. The music relies strangely heavily on a sort of snappy jazz for a lot of it (particularly the songs focused on Crow). There’s also this fun tendency to throw in some jokes into the music that actually land: the dwarfish chanting in the Dwarf Kingdom is just a recitation of the princess’s overly long name, for example.

But the controls make the game almost literally on playable.

I’ve played my share of platformer games, primarily metroidvanias, but I also played a Kirby game in recent memory and I’ve gone through my share of Mario games (along with several others). In a game like, say, Hollow Knight, the tight controls are part of what makes the game. The characters are responsive to your inputs: an attack hits and hits precisely and accurately; a jump can be controlled and predicted. It helps if the area where you can hit an enemy, their hit box, makes sense.

None of that applies to Nefarious. Crow always feels floaty, as if someone turned the gravity to low. This doesn’t matter if you’re controlling the actual crow bopping and jumping your way across a stage, or if you’re Crow in one of the several various devices and boss outfits that he utilizes. It always feels like playing the game on an ice level.

This applies to every aspect. The punches take a while to line up and are a little sloppy, particularly with their hit boxes. The ranged weapons are grenades, which are often lobbed in ways that are difficult to predict. At least one fight requires you to hit enemies into other enemies, and that feels quite loose with its own strange physics (I won that fight by literally staying as far away from the enemy that could hurt me and just lobbing enemies without aiming until I got it).

For some reason, the game decided it needed to have precision platforming on top of those controls. so there are several areas of the game where you have to make exact jumps or you die, and you watch over and over as Crow leaps over there like he’s wearing a spacesuit, seeming to hit the platform only to fall to his doom.

Hey look, the game is self-aware

I often have to deal with some anger whenever a game gets difficult or frustrating; a lot of players do. This one got particularly enraging because it so often felt like it wasn’t my fault. If I die to a particularly difficult boss in a game based on the Dark Souls franchise, it often feels like my error. I got too reckless or I didn’t ration enough health or energy to adapt to an attack. It’s frustrating, but it’s on me as a player to get better and overcome the obstacle.

Not the case here! I lost battles because the hit detection didn’t work when I clearly hit the target; I died to pits because Crow would slide off or not precisely land on the robot that was the safety net; I lost because my own grenade would miss the target and instead launch me up into an enemy. It felt like the game was actively working against me.

At the end of the day, a game’s controls are going to be what makes or breaks it. It’s an interactive medium: the player needs to engage and, on some level, needs to feel like their impacting the narrative. That’s not how Nefarious works. It feels broken, unfinished or unpolished, and it’s a shame, as the characterization is pretty solid and there are some really unique ideas here. But at the end of the day, Nefarious is a broken game, and it never should have been released in the state it’s in.

3 almost entirely for the poor controls; though the hit and miss attempts at humor weren’t all that great either, and it probably could’ve used just a bit more production value.

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