The term ‘Metroidvania’ has been around for ages. Describing a subgenre of action-adventure games like Metroid and Castlevania, they usually involve a large, interconnected 2D world with a variety of aesthetic locales. They also usually require the collection of new abilities and weapons in order to progress, returning to previously inaccessible locations which open up to reveal new areas.
Nightmare Boy follows this formula, but with a variety of interesting additions which lend it heaps of charm.
It starts incredibly slowly with the intro sequence feeling very drawn out and badly written. The concept is interesting; a boy called Billy is kidnapped into the world of Noctum – a nightmare realm – by a demonic pillow and put into the body of a dead local prince; but the stunted and drawn out dialogue makes the intro skippable at best, and downright off-putting at worst. Luckily these sections improve as the game progresses, but it isn’t a good way to kick thing off. The story is mostly simple, though it does have a few interesting moments; mainly focusing on the wide variety of other characters the game presents.
However, from the start it’s clear where the true appeal of Nightmare Boy resides; it’s beautifully realised aesthetic. The game presents you with a cartoony aesthetic which mixes cute and creepy in an almost Tim Burton-esqe way. Characters have been designed in a way which look professional, whilst still fitting into this idea of a child’s nightmare. I especially love the designs of the moon, then bosses and the toothed plants which show up later on in the game; it truly is a joy to look at both statically and in motion.
The gameplay itself combines platforming with both melee and ranged combat; as is common in Metroidvania games. You start with a simple jump and punch, but quickly you are provided with a variety of new powers which open things up joyfully. The powers and bonus’ come frequently, with each new area and boss bringing something new to play with. Enemies are varied, with most providing small extra challenges alongside the tricky platforming. The inclusion of Mongos; small, innocent creatures which sit in the most awkward places; ramp up the challenge a little, as you are asked by their guardian to avoid killing them. The guardian is a useful ally, killing enemies for you, but it will also attack you if you accidentally kill a Mongo; leading to moments where you have to choose between a quick enemy kill or a more careful approach. It’s executed incredibly well and it’s really fun to run around collecting gems and navigating Nightmare Boy’s beautifully realised world.
Again, however, in this respect the intro is also a real let down. The first area feels like a disappointing 90’s platformer full of too many simple enemies. The design is clunky, and whilst it LOOKS good the gameplay is again off-putting and will turn off many players immediately. Power though the first 20 minutes however and you won’t be disappointed.
Another aspect I’m not a fan of is the save system, which is completely manual. What makes this frustrating is the fact that it also costs gems to save, which for an inexperienced player will make things particularly difficult. Personally, I like saving often in all games; especially those on handheld so that you can just put it down when needed; but the price rises dramatically each time you save. It’s an interest idea which fits the style, but it’s just not for me and will put many players off. On the upside, the design of the Grim Reaper, who OF COURSE is responsible for saving is excellent.
The sound design of Nightmare Boy is also incredible, including a variety of themes which would fit perfectly into any Castlevania title; just with an added distinctive beat. There’s a lot of contrast in the music and the sound effects complement the retro feel incredibly well.
Overall, Nightmare Boy is a lot of fun, despite it’s many flaws. It’s not the best Metroidvania on Switch in terms of gameplay by a long shot, but the sense of style it embodies is enough to carry it, and the overall experience does improve the more you play. For £8.99 Nightmare Boy is a fun, strangely nostalgic romp though an interesting world which is definitely worth your time.