NightmareZ is an indie platformer developed by Anamik Majumdar. In the vein of early Sonic The Hedgehog titles, the player character moves from platform to platform by spinning through the air and bouncing off terrain. The game’s levels are divided into stages, during which players must collect objects by zipping around the level, dodging enemies or killing them with projectiles fired with the spacebar. The game’s controls are simple and feel a bit unresponsive at first, but are not insurmountable.
Unfortunately, this is where the fun ends. NitemareZ is done in a retro-style, and the developer took no liberties in doing so. Pausing is done not by tabbing out, hitting escape, or any other key near the main controls. Instead, one must hit the P key, and the escape key ends the level. Exacerbating this, if the player dies, they are sent back to the beginning of the level. Not the stage, the level. No extra lives, no checkpoints mid-stage or level. Death puts the player back to the title screen.
The lack of modern features is a grievous wound on the game’s playability. The game’s life-bar is generous, allowing fifty hits from normal enemies – Environmental hazards, however, can strip away more than half of this health bar, if they don’t outright kill the player. Adding to the clunky experience is the lack of variety in sound. The most egregious example of this is the same sound being played for “being hit by an enemy” and killing them with player-produced projectiles. In some cases, this isn’t an issue, as it’ll be obvious from what is happening on screen, but in tight corners, it’s tough to say without constantly checking one’s health, as enemies die on contact with the player character.
The long iteration cycles are NitemareZ biggest weakness. The first stage is brief enough that repeating it until mastery is achieved is simple enough. The second stage, however, is a massive jump in difficulty. Only one new element is introduced, and it provides an interesting twist on the platforming of the previous stage, but the length of the stage is easily triple that of the one which came before. Dying sends the player back to the start of 1-1, no matter how far into this massive second stage they progressed. The only thing to do from there is slog back through and hope to make it back to the challenge which resulted in the reset.
NightmareZ as a platformer is rough around the edges. Progressing through the stages themselves, with the player character’s majestic, if clumsy, movement is a blast. The stage pickups are placed deliberately and in ways which require experimentation to collect, rather than a linear progression of “Keep moving right”. The lack of checkpoints, weak attempt at a story, and difficulty spike early on make the game a poor attempt at capturing the charm of the retro-platformer.
+ Nice aesthetic
+ Careful level design
+ Simple controls
– Harsh difficulty curve
– Long iteration cycles
– Lack of new features
– Threadbare story
I’m going to give NightmareZ a final score of 4.1 / 10.