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Nightmare Reaper Review – A Bad Trip Worth Taking?

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Nightmare Reaper is the hottest new retro horror FPS, finally hitting version 1.0 after two long years in Early Access. You play as a mental patient confronting her repressed childhood and pubescence by blowing all those traumatic memories to hell. You can dig deeper if you want, but one of the main selling points is you can approach it as deeply as you prefer. Otherwise, it’s rapid-paced rogue-lite FPS action full of horrific monstrosities across semi-auto-generated level chunks.

Personally, it’s been one of my most anticipated games of the year. As such, I’m sorry to report that for almost everything Nightmare Reaper does right, it has to do something wrong in return. It’s like some sort of karmic counterbalance. The universe just couldn’t handle Nightmare Reaper being perfect, so it had to knock it down a peg. And then they took it down a few pegs more for no clear reason.

A DESCENT INTO MADNESS

Nightmare Reaper suffers from what might possibly be one of the strongest cases of “You Had To Be There”itis I’ve ever seen. Most Early Access games have some nuance and knowledge that only those who played before might have. The learning curve to the combat? Fair and solid, at least for the first third. The learning curve to the game as a whole? Far less gradual. Which is a real shame as, when Nightmare Reaper comes together, it’s a work of art.

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When it doesn’t, it’s definitely a nightmare, but not the kind you’ll want to play.

Nightmare Reaper GORE
This is the gore set to normal. There’s an option to actually make it even bloodier!

WHEN NIGHTMARE REAPER WORKS…

…it’s a thing of beauty. You’ll be dashing between hordes of opponents, Andrew Hulshult’s guitar strumming a nameless ballad in your honor, giblets spraying everywhere. You’re just keeping yourself flush with barely enough ammo and health dropped by enemies and destructible clutter. If all else fails, you can pound enemies with a solid kick of your foot. You can also toss explosive barrels – an idea so intuitive, it’s kinda weird how few games have tried that.

Circle strafing is an absolute must, and bunny hopping can be helpful in crucial moments. The latter is less pertinent when dealing with regular enemies because they’re hitscanning, and we’ll get more into why that’s not a great thing in a bit. Regardless, enemies look great, feel great to tear apart, and damn near every weapon in this game feels amazing. The frigging knife has an alt-fire that lets you throw an infinite number of knives into enemies. The most basic weapon in FPS history is actually interesting and viable to use here.

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Between the RNG modifiers like randomized ammo types, alternate fire modes, and critical hit chance, you’ve got a ton of flexibility in how you kit yourself out. Freeze guns. Remote bombs. Ancient spellbooks. Living insect hives. A necromancy skull that summons loyal skeleton warriors!

Yet nothing beats the chainsaw.

It’s not the most efficient weapon in the game, but it’s without a doubt perhaps the most iconic and versatile. It stuns enemies from firing that it hits, has a grappling hook that is useful at getting around the platforming challenges, and it truly rips and tears everything to splinters. This thing is up there with Dead Space’s plasma cutter. You’ll absolutely want it in your arsenal.

The game’s primary narration comes through notes from the protagonist’s doctor.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT (ALL) WITH YOU

That’s when Nightmare Reaper surprises you. Every time you clear a level, you can only keep a single weapon with you. Everything else is sold for extra upgrade currency. What sounds like a downer is easily one of the best features. It really makes you value what you have, spend every shot you’ve got, and try everything. Combined with three separate ammo pools for light, heavy, and magic-based attacks, Nightmare Reaper goes out of its way to keep you from growing complacent.

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Meanwhile, primary stat upgrades like more health, pick-up magnetism, and extra ammo are permanent across playthroughs. You also retain your current progress level when dying. You won’t repeat an environment unless you get stuck on it, and even in death, you retain your gold acquired. As such, it’s possible to brute force your way through, though skillful navigation tends to outweigh that.

Which all sounds great, right? Well, it’s once you’ve come to grips with the best parts that you’re face to face with the downsides. What began as a wonderful journey soured as I dug beyond the second half.

Bat-dragons are a pain, and you will learn to hate them.

NIGHTMARE REAPER’S DREAM-LOGIC

That’s the most confounding part of Nightmare Reaper. There are some baffling creative decisions that will leave you scratching your head. You see, in order to unlock any skills and perks, you have to engage in minigames remaking Super Mario, Pokemon, and… well it’s not Starfox but it’s a 2D bullet hell equivalent. They start off harmless but the amount of content in each is tantamount to full-on fangames, just inexplicably jammed into a horror FPS.

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These are as incongruous as they are unpleasant to play. While there’s no life system, they’re not a cakewalk – honestly, they’re far more stressful than even the self-destructing bile sacks of the mine shaft levels. It’d make sense if they were some bonus, like in Five Nights at Freddy’s, but they’re not. This is, apparently, an intended part of the experience.

Zombified mothers are the least of your concern, but their razor-sharp claws still pack a punch.

WHY IS POKEMON IN A GAME ABOUT AMAZING CHAINSAWS???

To be clear, these minigames can be disabled, if you happen to scroll down a menu list that’s over twenty items long. I spoke to other players who were totally unaware this was even an option. If you weren’t there when the decision was made in 2019, you might suffer through a good ten more hours of content that isn’t even why you bought the game. Really wouldn’t hurt for Blazing Bit to highlight this and a few of the other options into their own “accessibility” menu.

This theme of unnecessary frustration extends to core gameplay as well. There are more platforming deathtraps than a kid’s first Roblox level. Several of these can absolutely demolish your health if you aren’t careful, and all they reward you with is… another gun, sometimes worth only a few hundred coins. Despite the completion awards at the end of each section, there really are points where you need to shrug and skip side routes if you want to not grow bored. Other portions, like the flame maze, are simply masochistic nonsense that add nothing. The further you get, the more “secrets” are like this.

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Melee weapons have infinite attacks, but flying enemies require inventive thinking with power attacks.

However, the biggest pain in the neurons you’ll face are “elite” versions of normal enemies. These can spawn randomly, sometimes even at the start of a level before you’re fully equipped. They’re just bullet sponge variants of existing enemies. Instead of having unique attacks or some other twist, they’re just… there. At least they’re typically larger, making them easier to hit with splash damage, but a game this inventive with its arsenal shouldn’t have bland enemies.

This goes double for the sheer number of hitscan enemies who can cleave a ton of health off while being hard to locate. Sometimes I’d circle a room searching for the one lone shotgun sound effect, losing health. They’re not the only opponents you’ll face, but they do become increasingly frequent. It’s not for lack of ideas otherwise either. Levels go from caverns to buildings that look ripped straight out of old Bethesda games. It’s all incredibly perplexing at odds with the joyous creativity in other areas.

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Image Credit: Blazing Bit Games

FINAL THOUGHTS

Nightmare Reaper isn’t without its charm. From its gorgeous retro presentation to its wild arsenal, there’s a lot to love – initially. The question is how many players will stick it out past its second episode and reach the finish line. For those who relish the bite of classic 90’s shooters, the latter sections and survival arena might be just what they’re looking for, despite some odd design decisions. However, those just starting to dip their toes into the retro FPS genre might want to start elsewhere. Like its protagonist, Nightmare Reaper is a unique case that requires patience and the will to dare to press on.

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Nightmare Reaper Banner Art
Nightmare Reaper Review – A Bad Trip Worth Taking?
Summary
Nightmare Reaper has all the makings of a fantastic retro-FPS with rogue-lite elements wonderfully smattered across. However, for all its personality, Nightmare Reaper is also an uneven mess when it strikes the wrong note. A game some will love, warts and all, but many others will walk away wanting for a tighter experience.
Pros
A chainsaw with a grappling hook is the tip of the iceberg for the wild weaponry on offer
A rocking metal OST
Fantastic art direction and presentation
Some of the most cathartic combat in years - when it's reasonably balanced
Novel, non-intrusive approach to storytelling
Cons
Minigame based progression so frustrating you had to include an option to skip them are minigames not worth including
Unnecessarily masochistic balancing in latter stages likely to turn off all but the most determined players
Inexplicable emphasis on platforming obstacle courses straight out of Roblox
7

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Written by Elijah Beahm

Elijah’s your Guy Friday for all things strange, awesome, and obscure in gaming. When not reviewing the latest and greatest, he spends way too much time talking about oddities on his YouTube channel The Unabridged Gamer.

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