Relevant information to note before reading this early impressions / review:
- I was not given a review copy.
- I have no affiliation with anyone at Starblade.
- Specifications of the system used for this first impressions article can be found here.
- At the time of writing this article, I had played the game for ten hours.
Created by two-man team Starblade, it's a decent first attempt at an action platformer - it does have its issues, though.
Punchin' Bees and Stealin' Princesses
Crow, your character, has a plan to kidnap five princesses from different lands. Apparently they make for a great energy source. Each one is defended by a native hero, all of whom play the role of the traditional end-of-level boss. You, on the other hand, use various nefarious (sorry) machines to take them on.
The levels, which all have their own distinct theme and are inspired by a range of influences from fantasy to zoology, do tend to follow a recurring pattern. There's often a section where you're temporarily trapped and have to fight off a few waves of enemies. I understand that this is done to break up the monotony of constant platforming, however, it does become a little predictable. These parts of the levels are often the least fun.
You'll also find various collectables. Coins are your currency, used to buy upgrades from the store back on your mothership. Three crowns are spread around each level, often in slightly obscure places that will require a dash of exploration to find. Finally, there's also a record. These are more hidden and may require certain upgrades in order to reach. They unlock tracks in your jukebox.
Both the store and your jukebox are on Sovereign (yes, a Mass Effect reference), which can be accessed between levels. The store doesn't offer anything truly innovative in its upgrades - there's extra health, quicker ammo regeneration and modifications to the mechanics of your Inspector Gadget-like (good luck getting that tune out of your head) arm.
Combat is handled in two ways. For close range, you're relying on your arm and oversized fist. Longer range encounters are handled by throwing grenades, which can either be lobbed, arcing and short distance, or with a more direct and longer trajectory.
Grenade ammo isn't the usual deal in Nefarious. Your power suit can generate them and tokens dropped from your enemies will speed up the process. The regeneration is pretty quick even without any upgrades, although it doesn’t allow you to spam them continuously.
You can damage yourself with grenades, so using them at close range is not recommended. Sadly, given that they're bound to the left mouse button, this is something that you'll do by accident quite often - if you're anything like me, that is.
Interestingly, though, they can also be used to perform super jumps, which adds an extra layer of complexity to the game, gently nudging Nefarious toward speedrunner appeal.
Difficulty ramps up with each level. By the third you're dealing with near-unavoidable attacks that have a range the width of the screen. The combat system allows for high-skill gameplay, making this a tad more complex than similar games (very much how Rise and Shine, also recently released, approaches combat)
There's clearly a solid idea here - but Nefarious is held back by its technical execution - particularly when it comes to the controls.
If you're playing with a controller, you'll notice that both analogue sticks control the crosshair, rather than one. Removing your thumb from either will cause the crosshair, and therefore also the camera, to snap back to centre. This goes past the point of being obnoxious and makes the game uncomfortable to play, especially if you're changing direction frequently and quickly during a platforming section. This is avoidable if you play using mouse and keyboard, where you can keep the crosshair to one side of your character.
The button mapping is strange, too. It feels like the developers felt they had to assign an action to every controller button, even if it meant duplicating some actions and not others. Perhaps they wanted to add a way for people to have a choice of more than one layout but didn't know how to implement it properly.
The issue is present on the keyboard, too, although the bigger sin is the lack of rebindable keys. I would much prefer to have grenades assigned to the right mouse button rather than the left, for instance. This small change along would greatly alleviate some of the frustration I've experienced.
Saturday Morning Comic-Based Cartoon Style
If anyone knows a technical term for that, I'd love to know what it is.
Anyway, that's the art style that Nefarious is presented in - pulled off with a considerable level of verve and polish. A welcome relief in the continuing trend of 8-bit and pixel art indie scene.
The animations are crafted with care and attention to detail. Some of the enemy animations are brilliantly expressive. The young policemen in the first level are a perfect example - their eyebrows near fly off their faces at the sight of you.
I still feel, though, even after these ten hours, that Crow's animations are looser than they should be. My measure for this with platformers is whether I can get used to how character movement and animation jive together, and whether I can become comfortable and precise the more I play it. I don't have that feeling with Nefarious - especially when it comes to jumping.
Nefarious is a Unity game. While Unity does provide some capability to handle semi-advanced options, they're sadly all missing here. Along with a lack of key rebinding options, there are no graphical settings at all - and there's no Unity launcher, either. You can't even change the game's resolution. You can force it into a window by pressing Alt+Enter - unfortunately it takes the resolution of your display and can't be moved nor resized.
There's also an issue with collision detection, or the lack of it when it comes to Crow and enemies. You can both occupy the same space, which leads to some frustrating situations where an enemy, stood behind your character, can hit you but you can't hit them. This happened to me annoyingly often, as melee enemies will keep advancing toward you past the point of being able to hit you. There have even been a couple of times where I've died because of an enemy being hidden behind Crow that I couldn't see.
One final little niggle is that the crosshair can be easy to lose on certain backgrounds, especially at 4K.
For a two-man team, Nefarious is undoubtedly an impressive debut, with expertise in humour and animation at the fore.
It's currently available for $14.99/€14.99/£10.99. At that price, my general recommendation would be to wait for a sale. The game is a tad on the short side and isn't mechanically sound enough for my liking. If, on the other hand, you go mad for platformers, it's possibly worth a buy.