Nefarious is a game where you play a classic villain from a Mega Man style game who travels across worlds and genres kidnapping princesses. I mean, what could go wrong?
At a Glance: 5.5
Nefarious is a game of immense potential and promise that you’ll occasionally see bright glimpses of what it could have been. The writing, plot, and concept are a wonderful stand out to the game that is drug down considerably by technical issues, crashes, glitches, and inconsistent art. I powered through the last of the game because I couldn’t wait to see what boss fight would come next and because I wanted to see how the story turned out for Crow and crew. It made it all the more disappointing that something that could have been a truly great experience ends up being just medicore thanks to technical issues.
I both loved and hated Nefarious in equal measure during my time playing it, and I’ve seldom been so incredibly frustrated with a game’s potential versus its execution. At its core the game has a fantastic set-up with some really unique ideas, and sometimes those ideas are executed well enough that I found myself smiling from ear to ear. Other times the execution of the technical aspects of the game falls flat on its face so hard that I cursed the game and multiple times lost progress simply because it didn’t work right. Never have I wanted a game to have a sequel so bad that will likely never happen—if for no other reason to see what the developers could do given their experience making the first game.
The idea of the game is that you are a villain named Crow who regularly fights against his arch rival Mack while continuously kidnapping Princess Mayapple. Usually Mack defeats Crow soundly and rescues the princess, but on this kidnap attempt things don’t quite go how they normally do. Mack seems tired of chasing after Mayapple, and breaks up with her as Crow seeks to escape. Both villain and princess are shocked at the hero’s treatment, but Crow makes good on his villainous intent and takes her to his giant headquarters—an airship named Sovereign.
Princess Mayapple is so at home on Sovereign due to her constant kidnappings that she has her own quarters and she knows Crow’s robot henchman by names. Crow is an evil character, sure, but he really doesn’t seem like a bad guy per say. He actually reminds me a lot of Megamind, the titular character from the wonderful Dreamworks movie, and while he does plan to take over the world he never treats any of his princesses with any malice. In fact, this is the first time he has actually won, and he really doesn’t know what to make of it at first.
You’ll then travel to other worlds, each inspired by some sort of video game equivalent genre or trope, and make your way through a 2D platforming level. Under the hood it really feels like a generic and subpar 2D platformer with some real hitbox issues, but there are two unique twists to this that set Nefarious apart—aside from the obvious plot difference of playing a villain. The first is that each boss fight that takes place flips the script and allows you to pilot the hero destroying contraptions that you are usually fighting against in video games. I can’t stress to you how cool this idea is, or how well several of the boss fights are executed. It is in these moments that Nefarious really shows fantastic potential, and I found myself excited to experience each new fight.
In addition at the end of each level as you kidnap the princess you will gain new abilities or play styles that are centered around that princess. For instance, the second princess you kidnap is from an insect based kingdom and she has wings. Once you toss her over your shoulder and start escaping you’ll find that your jumps now take you much higher as the princess flaps her wings seeking to escape. It is a cool idea that transforms the end half of the level, and one that you’ll see again as you take on small sidequests for each princess, getting to know the character more in the process.
I actually found myself far more engaged with Crow’s development during the game, as he becomes surprised at his success, and eventually doesn’t really know how to handle it. There are questions of morality, a struggle of self in a way, and each character has surprising turns that they take that make them more than just cookie cutter clichés. I truly didn’t expect some of the developments that took place, and I found myself legitimately invested in how the story would play out. The writing is witty and at times legitimately funny as it lambastes popular tropes from gaming, but there also manages to be a real heart brought to the story that shows real talent in the developers writing team.
This all makes the technical failure of much of Nefarious all the more heartbreaking. Over the course of my 5 hours of play I found myself constantly bombarded by a number of issues. Whether these issues affected any other platforms I can’t say as I only played on the Switch, but they were the direct cause of the struggle I mentioned earlier with the game. There were numerous times the game crashed when I used the home button on my Switch and while loading on three separate occasions on the last level I lost all my progress when the game froze. None of that infuriated me like the constant failure of a specific mechanic however. There is a device in the game that if you press jump as you intersect with it on the screen, it’ll explode and launch you into another jump. Usually it is necessary to get to collectibles and the like, but on one area it is absolutely crucial for passing the level.
I’m passable at most games, but when it comes to platformers I’m quite skilled. I’ve played through entire games that revolve around a mechanic just like this, Mr/Mrs Splosion man comes to mind specifically. Keep in mind then that I am no stranger to the timing that this requires to pull off, but in this case sometimes it just wouldn’t work. I don’t know if it was an issue with the hitbox, if it was programmed poorly, or what the issue was, but there were times I would perform the exact timing I had done a bunch of times before and yet I would fall through and die. After making it through the entire game, encountering a ton of these frustrating things, I played back through a level and just fell through this part over and over and over again. It was infuriating, and it was a complete miss on behalf of the developer.
In addition there was an odd disparity in the animations and artwork of some characters. Mack, Crow, and many of Crow’s inventions are remarkably designed, animated, and drawn, but yet some of the characters or areas looked like subpar flash animation or artwork the likes we would have seen on the ancient Newgrounds.
Nefarious is a game of immense potential and promise that you’ll occasionally see bright glimpses of what it could have been. The writing, plot, and concept are a wonderful stand out to the game that is drug down considerably by technical issues, crashes, glitches, and inconsistent art. I powered through the last of the game because I couldn’t wait to see what boss fight would come next and because I wanted to see how the story turned out for Crow and crew. It made it all the more disappointing that something that could have been a truly great experience ends up being just mediocre thanks to technical issues.