I think it’s pretty clear at this point I subscribe to the “Classic” field of FPSes. Doom, Quake, Unreal. We’ve had quite the “Retro FPS” revival lately thanks to games like DUSK, and now thanks to Blazing Bit, we’ve got yet another great throwback style FPS with a lot of twists in Nightmare Reaper. More after the jump!
GENRE: Retro FPS with a hint of Roguelite (No permadeath tho)
Nightmare Reaper is definitely a welcome entry. Like I said before, I am all about Retro FPSes. And Nightmare Reaper absolutely fits that bill by blending the old with the new. While the shooting and moving are very much oldschool, modern twists like randomized loot, skill trees, and meta progression make it more than a simple matter of trying to find the exit like in the original Doom.
So, the premise of Nightmare Reaper is a bit hard to explain, as I don’t want to give the whole plot away. You’re a woman in an asylum, and whenever you go to sleep (which is how you start a level) you battle through a location, dealing with all manner of monsters as you try to reach the exit of that level. Why do you do this? That’s something the plot reveals in time.
With that aside, let’s talk about the actual levels and gameplay. Like other oldschool FPSes, this is all about reaching the exit, with a bunch of monsters between you and it, and often locked doors that require keys or switches. It’s all very Doom, but with a somewhat different level design as walls are all 90 degrees and levels are essentially made of large blocks, with the levels having a certain degree of procedural generation to them. Now, if it was just procedural levels, that might not be as much to write home about, but it’s the other, roguelite-ish elements that shake things up. First, we’ve got weapon loot!
There’s a wide variety of guns in Nightmare Reaper, and they can roll with a rarity value that gives them positive and negative modifiers. These can be simple things like less/more recoil, faster/slower firerate, but can also be far more interesting things like elemental effects, explosive shots, or the gun firing a different projectile than it normally does, like a shotgun that fires buzzsaws instead of pellets. As a result, the guns can range from meh to ‘Oh my god this is amazing’ in terms of performance, adding a bit of luck to your runs in that an amazing gun can make clearing the next level a breeze, a bad gun means you may struggle. Guns also are tiered in Level 1, 2, and 3 tiers which determine their base effectiveness before modifiers from rarity, with level 1 guns being things like basic pistols and shotguns, and level 3 being things like a portable nuke launcher. Now you’re probably thinking “oh great, this many guns must mean there’s a bajillion ammo types.” Thankfully, no, there’s only three! Light, Heavy, and Magic. Light typically being for anything bullet based, heavy covering your explosives and other “Big” guns, and magic affecting, well…Magic weapons like magical staves and tomes which tend to focus on elemental damage. Needless to say, there’s a LOT of gun variety here. Melee weapons, automatics, shotguns, magical artifacts, big explosives, the arsenal is plentiful. Unfortunately for you…You only get to keep ONE weapon at the end of a level’s completion, and it can only be a level 1 gun. This makes for some difficult choices if you manage to find multiple guns you want to keep after a level, but there is some good news: Every gun you don’t keep is turned into gold that is spent on permanent upgrades via another unique aspect of Nightmare Reaper: The Skill Tree.
Your menu in Nightmare Reaper is a portable game system clearly meant to represent a Gameboy Advance SP, and along with being a menu system, it also gives you access to several “Trees” that improve your character in various ways. The Skill Tree is the most basic of these (I won’t spoil the other two), and uses a Super Mario Bros 3 style world map as the actual tree aspect. Each “Level” of this tree starts up a 2D platforming minigame, and grants a permanent upgrade when completed. Each level has a gold requirement for entry, but the good news is the gold is only spent if you actually complete the level and win the unlock, so failed runs don’t result in wasted gold. You can also earn back some of your gold by collecting coins and treasure in the minigame levels themselves, never enough to pay for what you just spent, but usually enough to give you back a small portion of it. Now, if you aren’t into minigames and just want to shoot things? Don’t worry, Nightmare Reaper’s got you covered: The minigames can be disabled, though this also means you can’t get any money back from them since you aren’t playing the levels. And you absolutely want to be using the Skill Tree and other Tree upgrades you come across, they range from simple max health and ammo pool increases to far more useful abilities like a high speed dash, midair jumps, and eventually the ability to keep higher level tiered guns.
As I said before, this game is “roguelite-ish” but not a true roguelite. The only penalties of dying are you lose any guns you found in the current level you were playing and have to replay the level which will be re-randomized. The gun you’ve elected to keep from the last level you played is safe even if you die, so death is only really a massive penalty if you found a really nice gun in a level you intended to keep, but died before you could mark it as your keeper. The procedural element of level generation absolutely can throw some surprises your way though due to two things that come with every randomly made level: Elites and Random Events. Any time you clear out a room, there’s a chance for a Random Event to happen, which can be good or bad. Bad random events can result in damaging traps like lighting orbs or falling shards of ice where you have to track down a Trap Orb and destroy it in order to stop the trap. You might also wind up with more enemies after you clear the room, or even spawners you have to destroy. On the other hand, positive events can also occur at random, such as a Doctor appearing who will let you re-roll one of the modifiers of a gun, or make a new copy of a gun you’re carrying that’s at least Rare in quality, but has a chance to be Legendary as well. These random events always shake up a run, because you never know when something good (or bad) will happen upon clearing a room. In some cases you also may find yourself having to clear a room: While some rooms remain open upon entry, some seal up and require killing all enemies in the room before the doors will re-open, meaning you may have to be ready for a big, unavoidable fight at any moment. I’m more than okay with all of this because the random events help keep things feeling fresh every run, and because it gives you something to potentially look forward to when The Doctor shows up and you have something you want to re-roll.
Now, that all said, Nightmare Reaper is a LONG game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is not a Roguelite-ish shooter you’re going to finish in a couple hours. The game’s divided into three major episodes, and each one is quite lengthy, with new gameplay mechanics such as new hazards, new abilities, and new things you have to interact with in levels showing up in each episode. This keeps things feeling fresh as just when you think you’ve seen it all at the end of episode 1, episode 2 throws in a permanent Grappling Hook upgrade that suddenly changes up the entire way you move around, and adds a new, significant amount of verticality to the gameplay and level design. The level design itself is also quite varied, with each episode having its own environments, and not really sticking to any one theme aside from Episode 2 where all the “Urban” stuff is.
The game’s difficulty is also quite a ramp up, fair warning. The various upgrade Trees will help with this, but make no mistake: Episode 2 is hard, and Episode 3 is just downright ridiculous. So between the length and difficulty, you might be in for a rougher time than you expect. If you *are* someone who likes a challenge? Oh yeah, you’re gonna definitely see one here. But again, the challenges can be overcome with upgrades you’ll find throughout your nightmare journeys, and things definitely get more interesting with the other two major upgrade Trees, one of which involves playing a wave based survival mode to earn its currency rather than playing the main levels. This is another way the game maintains a fresh, varied approach that keeps it fun and not just simple level to level progression.
Now, I can’t talk about Nightmare Reaper without mentioning its composer: The Trashcan Legend himself: ANDREW HULSHULT. Yes, the man who did DUSK’s absolutely phenomenal soundtrack is back and the result is…Unsurprising. Unsurprising in that it’s yet another soundtrack that’s nothing but bangers and atmosphere that are just….MMPH! Perfection. Listen for yourself from Andrew’s own official youtube channel!
Hulshult is a master of his craft, and Nightmare Reaper wouldn’t be nearly as great without his tunes blasting out during every firefight.
So, at the end of the day, is Nightmare Reaper for you? That does depend on a few things, but the big one is “Do you like Retro FPSes that are all about speed while shooting, key hunting, and dealing with massive hordes using a massive arsenal?”
If the answer is yes, you need to play Nightmare Reaper.