If we’ve learnt anything from Despicable Me, it’s that being a bad guy is not all it’s cracked up to be – in fact, it’s a rather thankless task. Every couple of years hatching a ridiculously flawed plan to rule the universe through a bit of royalty rustling must be a real challenge. Think of the machines you’d have to design, the money you’d have to generate and the overheads: Electricity, Gas, Water, laser sharks, general wages – we’ve not even got to the mountain of insurances needed to run an evil corporation and don’t get me started on the amount of tax they’ll have to pay (unless, obviously, they get involved with an offshore scheme but no one’s that evil…are they?). It’s a logistical nightmare, compounded by the fact our Villain must remain physically fit if he wishes to defeat the numerous heroes of the world. Well, have you ever wondered what would happen if, after all that extensive planning and hard work, the good guy gave up?
Nefarious from Starblade attempts to answer that question by putting you in the shoes of the worlds greatest 16-Bit bad guy… Crow! Having successfully kidnapped the princess and escaped to the waiting ‘Death Ray’ Crow is confronted by our Mega-Man wannabe. However, instead of the usual pre-fight banter, Rockman’s illegitimate offspring declares he’s breaking up with the princess, has no interest in continuing the iconic battle between good and evil and buggers off. It’s a glorious moment for our nefarious ne’er-do-well and he seizes this opportunity to enact an even more grandiose plan: invade other retro-gaming franchises, steal their princesses and use their majestic magic to create an all-powerful weapon that will seal his dominance over the 16-Bit universe.
Starblade has laid out a tantalising pitch: the chance to be the ultimate bad guy across a multitude of classic gaming genres is a prospect way too appealing to miss. Sadly, Nefarious never lives up to its promise.
With the chance to play as villains from across the entire 16-bit gamut, you’d expect the levels to be witty rebukes of classic titles such as Sonic, Gauntlet, Final Fantasy and Streets of Rage. However, most of Nefarious is played out across the same platforming tropes we’ve seen in every title that has come before – traverse the map from left to right, thwamp a few irritating but ineffective minions and avoid anything that will insta-kill you. In fact, the only difference between Mega-Man and Nefarious is that you’re kidnaping the princess not coming to her aid and, to be honest, Nefarious does a wonderful job of illuminating that issue as being a matter of semantics.
There are a couple of moments where Nefarious hints at what it could have been: during one level you’ll fight the heroes in a classic turn-based RPG show-down – it’s wonderful, if incredibly easy challenge but it comes out of nowhere: I had no idea the level had been set in an RPG before the Hero fight at the end, I’d just been making my way through another platform game up until that point. Another level has you diving beneath the ocean waves, hunting for treasure. The section reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ notorious dam level; the dangerous spikes jutting out of the walls, the awkward manoeuvrability. But instead of the chunky turtles filling my screen, the level is set in a LocoRoco inspired aquarium with the difficulty turned to 1. Unfortunately, these are but fleeting moments and the game reverts back to its pedestrian platforming action before you can truly appreciate what could have been.
While missed opportunities are irksome, Nefarious suffers from a lacklustre platforming experience too. Jumping is inconsistent, controls feel muggy and narrow platforms may as well be covered in bin-bags and sprayed with washing up liquid. It’s an awkward mess that makes the disappointment of it not being the genre swapping Villain-Con we’d been hoping for even more infuriating.
However, the true crux of Nefarious’ problems comes from the game’s combat. Your main weapon, a massive reinforced fist, is slow to respond. There are times you’ll launch an attack on an enemy and watch as your engorged glove passes right through them. You’ll rattle off hundreds of bullets from your machine gun, firing hot lead in all directions and cause absolutely no damage to any of the enemies on screen – not only are you a villain without a hero but you’re now impotent in combat. Hitboxes are inconsistent: even using the more refined aiming system doesn’t guarantee you a kill. Enemies can glitch through walls, bombarding you with burning balls of fury that you can do nothing about and absolutely everything smacks you in the chops with a pound and a half of knock-back, launching you straight into the nearest insta-kill area of the level. But what’s worse is that all of these issues are inconsistent; you never know when these problems will occur so you can’t compensate for them.
Luckily checkpoints are dispersed regularly throughout the levels, negating a large amount of frustration you’d feel otherwise. Hero fights, though incredibly easy (apart from the final boss and that’s due to issues mentioned above), are a lot of fun and the characters are well written. Even with the issues I had and disappointment, I felt for Nefarious’ unrealised potential, I quite enjoyed the time I had with it.
Nefarious is a riddle of missed opportunities and it’s a real shame that Starblade didn’t go all out on the homage to retro-gaming Villains. It’s filled with great ideas, witty one-liners and an obvious passion for the source material it’s playing with. And though it’s not a game I’d recommend for you to rush out and buy, it is a title I hope they go back to and create the masterpiece we know it could be.