Genuine strangeness is often an overlooked quality in games. Not in the sense of something out of the ordinary for the sake of being different, but in elements that confuse, surprise, and delight in equal measure. Nightmare Reaper's mixture of mechanics is probably best described as the right kind of strange, even though that’s not much of a description.
Familiarity is here, and the formula found at the heart of Nightmare Reaper is one that can easily grab you. Engaging and fun old school pixel-style first-person shooting, dynamic levels that are well-laid out and designed, rogue-lite elements that let you upgrade your abilities and skills via playing 8-bit mini-games, dozens of weapons that can drop mid-level featuring powerful buffs and abilities. Boss battles, power-ups, puzzles to solve, and a story that reveals itself gradually over time as you progress through a series of nightmares born from what you can only assume is a very disturbed individual. There’s a lot to discover.
The strangeness alluded to in the intro comes from all sides of the experience, from equipping a legendary wasp-swarm gun that can melt a room in seconds, figuring out why there’s a bunch of exploding fireballs all over the place all of a sudden, playing an 8-bit Pokemon homage to buy upgrades, exploring the insane asylum and discovering a new bed that leads to a horde-mode arena mode dreamscape with its own systems and progression. Plus, you can equip a book that fires Palpatine-style lightning bolts.
Engaging and fun old school pixel-style first-person shooting, dynamic levels that are well-laid out and designed, rogue-lite elements that let you upgrade your abilities and skills via playing 8-bit mini-games, dozens of weapons that can drop mid-level featuring powerful buffs and abilities.
Even though Nightmare Reaper features a rogue-lite setup where death is merely a speed bump, the level-based structure works wonders for keeping things feeling fresh. Every three levels the backdrop/locale changes to a new dark and gloomy setting. Part original Doom, a retro-FPS where you’re always on the look-out for secret walls, part something you’d find on the Super Nintendo, where enemies explode in a shower coins to collect, it’s an impressive tonal stew. Visually speaking, things are grim, dark, and disturbing, but with a playful undertone that tips the cap to both the original Wolfenstein 3D and games like Metal Slug.
The chunky pixel-art is definitely lo-fi and the visual effects are screen-filling and over-the-top when the action heats-up, but it’s all surprisingly crisp when simply exploring different pathways and discovering secrets. Dying in a level, as mentioned above, spits you back to the insane asylum that serves as the hub, but through cleverly designed rooms, layouts will change-up and shift around in such a way as to create that sense of ‘no two runs being the same’ for each and every level you tackle.
Nightmare Reaper is generous in how it lets you keep all coins and treasure leading to continual progression and upgrades. Plus, you can choose one weapon to take with you leading to a situation where once you find that great legendary firearm it can make things a lot easier to manage. A lot of the charm comes from the Borderlands-style loot drops that mix and match various stats and effects to create seemingly countless weapon options.
It’s also worth noting that Nightmare Reaper has been in active development for several years, with a long Early Access stint, so the sheer quantity of modes and mini-games-within-the-game can feel overwhelming even after you put in a dozen or so hours. Thankfully you can pick and choose which of the playable skill trees are, well, playable in order to simply reap the rewards. From an 8-bit perspective most of the mini-games aren’t amazing or on par with the core shooting, which is a shame.
Even though Nightmare Reaper features a rogue-lite setup where death is merely a speed bump, the level-based structure works wonders for keeping things feeling fresh.
Also, you can tell that later levels build on the core concept in ways that aren't exactly organic. Getting the grapple-hook is nice and shifting the action to modern urban environments is cool, but it's all a little jarring. That said, the retro-inspired first-person shooting is by far the strongest aspect of Nightmare Reaper, and the mix of levels, secrets, loot, and rogue-lite elements is something that works together to deliver immediate, addicting, and engaging action.