The Nintendo Switch has a heavy catalogue of rogue-likes and Zelda clones, but only a couple of “Metroidvania” style games. Nightmare Boy from Badland Games and The Vanir Project aims to fill that void with a stylized adventure that’s more aesthetically similar to Castlevania than it is to Metroid.
The realm of Noctum, a reality made up of monsters and dreaming children, has fallen into a pit of chaos and despair at the hands of its self-proclaimed ruler, Balder. This evil, pseudo-ruler is kidnapping dreaming children and trapping them within the nightmare world in order to keep his hold on the realm. You take control of Billy, a young boy in a Frankenstein’s monster-looking form, as he frees the kidnapped children on his way to escaping Noctum.
In standard “Metroidvania” fashion, sections of Nightmare Boy‘s world are blocked off by obstacles that require different power-ups to get by. Thankfully, the game doesn’t tell you where to go at all times unlike The Mummy Demastered, so you’re left to wander the overworld and stumble across boss battles yourself. I love the backtracking in games like Super Metroid and Axiom Verge, and there’s a little bit of that in Nightmare Boy. Progression is definitely a lot more straightforward: in Super Metroid forks in the road that lead to un-explorable areas on your way to the next upgrade, whereas in Nightmare Boy the first fork is typically where you need to go; backtracking in Nightmare Boy is shorter, which some people may enjoy, but I feel like it makes the game’s world feel smaller.
Since the exploration in Nightmare Boy is fairly straightforward with few forks and minimal backtracking, the challenge comes from the combat and platforming. Hallways are littered with enemies that you’ll have to fight up close with melee attacks or from a distance with abilities that consume a magic meter. The most useful of these abilities is a fireball that I used in just about every enemy encounter, especially boss battles.
The upgrades that are most often used to get by progression obstacles are things like double jump, ground pound, and wall jump. We’ve seen all of these in other games before (look to Axiom Verge for really creative upgrades in a “Metroidvania”), and Nightmare Boy doesn’t give you the chance to figure out new upgrades on your own. These types of games will typically trap you in a room and the only way to get out is by using the upgrade in a basic way, with more complex obstacles to come later in the game; however, Nightmare Boy gives you a new upgrade and usually lets you just walk out of the room without using it. Obstacles didn’t really progress and get more complex, either. To increase difficulty, Nightmare Boy throws more enemies on screen and may place spikes around platforming sections, the latter of which can feel unfair and frustrating at times because the platforming controls are a little too loose.
Still, running around the world of Noctum is fun. Billy moves swiftly and combat against all sorts of enemies — giant rats, demons, and beasts that look like failed science experiments — is smooth. My perspective regarding “Metroidvania” titles may be skewed, admittedly, as I prefer the vast, confusing worlds in games like Axiom Verge. While Nightmare Boy is still fun for veterans of the genre like myself, it’s definitely geared more toward those that have been too intimidated by the bigger “Metroidvania” titles to try one.
There are a bunch of bosses in Nightmare Boy and each one is gigantic with a simple attack pattern to avoid. I discovered an exploit that worked on several bosses where I could stand in a corner near the door and shoot fireballs at the boss and the boss would just continue on its pattern, never making the extra effort to come get me. The bosses where I couldn’t find that exploit were much more challenging and satisfying to defeat.
One interesting idea in Nightmare Boy is having to pay in-game gems to the grim reaper in order to save your progress, similar to the save system in Resident Evil. The price goes up each time you save, but it didn’t really have an impact on the game because I always had a plethora of gems (note: gems are acquired from defeating enemies — there aren’t any microtransactions in Nightmare Boy).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Nightmare Boy can be played with the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. The game gives me a “Controller not connected” error whenever I try to play using the Pro Controller, and then immediately starts working when I switch to the Joy Con + grip.
Update: Badland Games has confirmed that the developers are working on including support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller in a future update.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Nightmare Boy was provided by Badland Games.