It’s not always good to be bad.

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Developer: StarBlade
Publisher: StarBlade
Format: PC

Released: January 23, 2017
Copy purchased

I’ve never been sold on games that allow you to play as the villain. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely see the appeal of games like Overlord or Lucius, both of which let you have fun with the idea of being the bad guy. But that same appeal is also what turns me off the whole concept, primarily because these games equate being villainous with being a sadistic dick. When I want to play as a villain, I want to take the role of an actual video game villain that carries out ridiculous master plans to take over the world, command a horde of minions, and impractical death machines.

This is the exact kind of villain that Starblade’s debut 2D platformer, Nefarious, lets you play as, attempting to flip perspectives on the classic Mario-esque video game story and show you what can happen when the game’s villain actually manages to kidnap a princess.

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You play as the notorious villain, Crow, currently in the middle of his most recent attempt to kidnap the land’s monarch, Princess Mayapple, and face off against his long-time nemesis, Mack. This time however, Mack decides to completely give up on trying to rescue the princess, giving crow his first ever victory, even if by default. With the princess now in his capture, he can now begin the long-awaited “stage two” of his master plan to take over the world, Crow sets his sights the world’s other kingdoms, hoping to kidnap their respective princesses and use the mysterious power of the monarchy to power his ultimate death machine.

The first thing I loved about Nefarious was its delightfully cartoonish presentation. Every character model has a wonderfully fluid sense of motion and every world you visit has its own unique design to keep things visually interesting. One moment you’ll be beating up bee soldiers in an underground hive city, and the next you’ll be leaping across temple rooftops in a feudal Japan inspired fire kingdom. Even the way the tutorial was carried out using anti-villain propaganda posters was a neat little touch.

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It’s just unfortunate that the game’s sound design doesn’t manage to match the same quality as its visuals. For starters, the game is missing a lot of very necessary sound effects. For example, sounds for attacks like a charging punch are non-existent, making powerful attacks feel like they lack any sort of satisfying impact when you use them. But even in places where sound effects are actually used, they can be completely inappropriate. I don’t think the swinging impact of a gigantic wrecking ball is meant to sound like an inflatable beach ball bouncing gently off a toddler’s head. And while the soundtrack does at least have some decent tunes to listen to as you rampage through the various kingdoms, they all become rather grating after a while thanks to the awkward way they loop. It takes the enjoyment out of the jazzy theme song when the track fades out at its end only to start right up again at full volume.

As a 2D platformer, Nefarious offers very little in the way of challenge, instead simply presenting you with a bunch floating platforms that are easily traversed. In fact, the only times I ever had any difficulties getting through a specific part of a level was when I was facing off against its larger enemies. But since you have such a small move set, it doesn’t take very long to figure out how to dispatch them quickly. Crow is able to jump, punch, and fire grenades from his oversized mechanical hand, with variations of these abilities on offer through an upgrade shop. Of course, since none of these upgrades are actually necessary to progress through the game, you’ll most likely avoid them and focus on upgrading your health bar to take more hits.

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That being said, Nefarious does offer a handful of really interesting, if short lived, gameplay moments when it remembers that you’re playing as the story’s villain. Since the princesses you find in each level have their own unique powers, you gain access to certain abilities when you capture them. While these abilities are exclusive to the level each princess belongs to, they serve to completely reinvent the standard gameplay in specific ways that make the remainder of the level feel refreshing. These can range from being able to jump higher and longer after capturing the insect princess, to turning the last half of the level into an exciting endless runner after finding the Nord-like ice princess.

But where Nefarious really shines is when you reach the game’s “hero fights” at the end of each level. During these battles, you actually get to take control of the giant and impractical death machines you’ve faced off against in classic games like the original Sonic series. It’s an oddly satisfying feeling to use a giant ball and chain attached to a floating control pod to beat the ever-loving shit out of a wise-cracking hero.

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Unfortunately, once you manage to collect all of the princesses, the small offering of fun gameplay moments almost completely disappear until the end of the game. Until that point, the game spends a lot of time meandering around and wasting time, forcing you to play through an out of place dating game, as well as a slow and frustrating 2D shooter level before finally throwing a ridiculously difficult final level complete with everyone’s favourite video game trope: an unnecessary boss rush.

While Nefarious is quite short, taking only a few hours to beat, I didn’t find it to be a very satisfying experience in the end. While there are some brilliant moments that break away from its fairly standard gameplay, such as its boss fights, these moments are too few and far between. As a result, a majority of the game just feels like work that you need to slog through just so you can see what weird thing the game will throw at you next. With a few tweaks to its gameplay and sound design, I could see Nefarious being a neat, if short, 2D platformer. But in its current state, it feels like a bunch of wasted potential. I really do hope it sees some fixes later down the line.

Final Score: 2.5/5

Final Recommendation: Wait for a sale. It has some really interesting ideas that are worth checking out, but I can’t say they’re worth experiencing at it’s current full price.

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Writer: Tristan Venables

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