Sucker that I am for a 2.5D retro shooter, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with Nightmare Reaper. During the first level, as fun as it was, it just didn’t feel quite tight enough. Then I died. And then I realised.
Nightmare Reaper is a procedurally generated retro FPS, with fresh levels every time you play. Levels that are of such high quality they often feel deliberately composed, only every now and then giving themselves away with an errant dead end. For the majority of the time, these chunk-based designs are fantastic, and then surrounded by so many clever ideas.
The first of these clever ideas is the most important: this isn’t a game that just spawns levels from the same bucket of chunks and expects that to be enough. Instead, it changes tileset/theme every three levels, creating a constant sense of progress while keeping it fresh. As such, should you not die at all, playing through each set of three feels like a natural FPS. Fail, and you don’t have to repeat the same again.
This variation is then hugely increased by the game’s vast array of weapons, dropped by enemies and randomised in both type and quality. There are chainsaws and shotguns, as you might expect in a Doom-ish game, but also magical books, chain whips, sawblades, grenade launchers, bows and arrows, machine guns, powered kicking boots, sniper rifles, rocket launchers… At the start you can only equip two, the rest in an inventory you can swap from any time. More weapon slots open up as you go along. But most interestingly, at the end of any level, you can only pick one to keep, which guarantees you’ll have it at the start of the next. The rest are turned in for coins.
Then on top of this, there’s the extraordinary way in which you level up. Coins are also gathered as you play, from killed enemies, smashed crates, the usual, and then can be spent by… playing minigames via some sort of console carts. You level up specific features by spending coins on levels of a platforming game! Finish the level (and you get as many goes as you need), and you’ll unlock, say, another weapon slot, or improved weapon efficacy, or even new moves like a dash.
And as if all this weren’t enough, this is then interspersed by moments inside some sort of asylum. You are a woman, seemingly trapped in a grim room, sink and toilet opposite your bed, bars across the windows and doors. To start the next level, you must lie down on your bed… which is all sorts of creepy. As you progress, more details are revealed in your room, notes left by doctors, weird scrawled symbols on the walls, ceiling, floor. Then one time your door is left open…
There are other carts to find, one offering you a peculiar scaled-down Pokémon-like game, collecting creatures from long grass, then battling them against other trainers to unlock more abilities. It’s so impressive how much is going on in here.
Oh, and it looks great too! Clearly it’s that Build Engine-style clunkiness, but with 3D lighting, amazing slo-mo effects, objects you can pick up and throw, and lovely subtle details like how the 2D “sprite” enemies then flip and spin through the air as if posterboard after being killed.
So no, you’re not going to get the exquisite level design of other more recent 2.5D shooters, like Dusk or Ion Fury, but you are getting a constantly interesting FPS game, packed with secrets, treasure, minigames, mysteries and the most incredible wealth of weaponry. Having not been sure if I’d stick with it, I’ve ended up playing it all week. And I’m just a fraction of the way into it. There’s so much I’ve yet to discover, including getting deeper into the arc narrative. So I’m certainly carrying on.