Nightmare Reaper stumbles compared to other retro FPS revivals despite its big dreams

Indie games are the realm of the experimental. When you’re creating a game that’s small in scope for a less than mainstream audience, you can afford to take some risks. A lot of the risks Blazing Bit Games took while bringing Nightmare Reaper to Steam Early Access are worth appreciating. Another retro FPS in an already overcrowded field, Nightmare Reaper stands out thanks to the sheer variety in its weapon sandbox. This current release has over 30 weapons, and that’s only half of the planned arsenal for the full game. Switching from a killer shotgun to a book of magic spells is hard to complain about, but this idea of quantity over quality pervades the rest of the experience as well, for good but mostly for ill.

Nightmare Reaper Preview | Just the way it used to be

In Nightmare Reaper, you play as a female mental patient locked in a hospital room. Your only release is your mind, which takes the form of blocky pixelated FPS levels. You’re fighting your inner demons, kind of like how B.J. Blazkowicz coped with his stress in Wolfenstein: The New Order. After each level, you’re back in your room with the option to read another small tidbit from your doctor’s journal. This story setup doesn’t get in the way, but there was no reason to care about a seemingly generic excuse to shoot skeletons. The visual design also clearly takes inspiration from early Wolfenstein, with simple graphics that toe the line between charming and cheap.

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Thankfully, the shooting holds up much better than the graphics and story, delivering a satisfying adrenaline rush with each stage you complete. This is the fast-paced circle-strafing you expect, and the huge variety of guns and melee implements keep things interesting. At least at first. You can carry two weapons at a time but pick up as many as you like, switching them out via an inventory screen. At the end of a level, you get to keep a single weapon of your choice and you sell the rest for upgrade currency. Early on in my playthrough, I picked up a shotgun with a flame damage buff. It proved very effective to the point where I barely felt the need to use anything else.

Nightmare Reaper Preview | Running in circles

Nightmare Reaper Spellbook Gameplay

This is a real shame because there are some true winners here. The “chained saw” comes with a Roadhog-style grappling hook that jets you towards enemies and hard to reach places. You can use magic to freeze enemies or zap them with bolts of lightning. There are multiple breeds of explosive devices, including everything from throwable sticky mines to a gratifying bazooka. However, when pretty much everything dies in two hits from a shotgun in the face, there’s not a huge reason to care about those extra armaments. All this variety in place and Nightmare Reaper fails to give you a reason to take advantage of whole portions of the arsenal other than for the sake of switching.

This problem expands when considering how easy the game is in its current form. In my hours of playtime, I never once worried about health or ammo. There are so many enemies dying around you that you almost always have refills waiting for you. If you need even more help, there are a few admittedly neat power-ups. You can get a dual wield for any of your guns, boost your firing rate to ludicrous speed and slow down everything around you. Sadly, said power-ups often pop up near the end of stages, meaning that you’ll find them after you clear out an area. This is disappointing but expected when dealing with roguelite mechanics.

Nightmare Reaper Preview | You won’t come back, we’re through

Nightmare Reaper Platforming Level

Yes, it’s not all the fault of one overpowered boomstick. Despite a store page that does nothing to advertise this, Nightmare Reaper features procedurally generated levels. This is a problem for several reasons. While each stage has treasure rooms filled with hazards, they lack designs that require specific tools. You can warp through them if you have the chainsaw/grappling hook, and they’re often not worth the trouble anyway because of random rewards. Other stages have locked key doors near the end that require scrounging around for one glowing object in a room filled with hundreds. Mechanics like this can work in a randomized game. In Nightmare Reaper, the item placement to be obscure and frustrating more than anything.

Speaking of frustrating, the absolute worst part of Nightmare Reaper is how it handles skill progression. There’s an impressively long skill tree to march down, but you don’t just pick upgrades you want. Instead, you play a 2D platformer level to earn boosted health or a faster walk speed. If you’d assume that 2D platforming shoved into a retro shooter isn’t the best representation of the genre, you’d be correct. The hitboxes are less than generous, often making the running and jumping more difficult than the shooting. In addition, the controls are abysmal on a controller, as the jump button is mapped to the D-pad. If you want to give yourself a cramp in your left hand, then Nightmare Reaper‘s platforming mini-game is the experience for you.

Nightmare Reaper Preview | Your love is strong, it still remains

Nightmare Reaper Powerup Gameplay

Thankfully, Blazing Bit Games seems to be doing Early Access right. The platforming is already due for retooling according to the Steam forums, where several of its aforementioned issues are echoed by multiple other people. Despite its other faults, Nightmare Reaper‘s is right up there with the best of the retro shooter revival. It’s just that everything surrounding that gameplay shifts focus away from that core strength. As it stands, Nightmare Reaper is a manuscript with thousands of excess words crying out for an editor. If Blazing Bit makes those cuts, no one is going to be able to sleep on this one.


GameRevolution previewed Nightmare Reaper on PC via Steam Early Access with a copy provided by the developer.