There are so many games that go down the Roguelike path nowadays, and honestly it can get a little overwhelming. So often I find myself building a deck of randomly generated cards to take on dangers, or taking a party of heroes into a dungeon full of random traps and treasure, only to die repeatedly. It’s a genre I absolutely love when done right, but when you play as many of them as I do they can start to get a bit tiresome. We don’t get a whole lot of Roguelike FPSs though, so I was delighted to jump into the randomised boomer shooter that is Nightmare Reaper.
After having a tutorial nightmare in a dingy demon world, our heroine protagonist wakes up in a hospital room. Once you’ve read a couple of notes stuck to the wall it becomes rather apparent that this is some sort of insane asylum, and that various psychiatrists have been investigating you specifically. Like most people locked up you’d rather be free, and the only way to figure out the root of why you’re here is by investigating your nightmares. I didn’t love the idea of the asylum from a mental health representation standpoint, complete with screaming in the corridors and scribbles on the walls, but it does provide a sort of safe house when you’re not in your nightmares.
The nightmares are essentially randomised stages of a DOOM or Quake style FPS, full of sinister demons and weapons to blast them with. There isn’t a whole lot to explain about how this works (you just point at baddies and shoot) but the controls and pacing just feels glorious. This is exactly the speed I want in an FPS, so you should expect to be doing a lot of twitchy shooting.
The weapons you’ll use in the nightmares aren’t just your standard guns though. The staples are all there (pistols, grenade launchers, the very best of shotguns) but there are also guns that shoot beehives, books that fire stones from between the pages, and even a sword and shield for some melee action. You never know what you’re going to get when you drop into a level, and can only keep a single murder tool with you at the end of a level so expect to try out a lot of different combinations.
Even when you find weapons of the same type, they’ll usually end up having different modifiers to vary things up even more too. Some weapons have a percent chance to stun, some might leech health, and others will send enemies flying away from you. It feels great when you find a rare weapon with all the best buffs to beat back the demon horde, at least until you lose it forever.
I know Roguelike elements can be a bit of a deal breaker for some people, but Nightmare Reaper doesn’t go overboard with them. Failing a level just kicks you back to the hospital instead of ending the run, and you’ll also gather currency to permanently power up your protagonist. The systems just aren’t overly punishing, and you feel like you’re always getting stronger as you go.
I need to talk more about the upgrade system though, because it is wild. When you load up the upgrade menu you’re greeted by something that looks suspiciously like the Super Mario Bros 3 world map, and if you have enough money you can play one of the 2d platforming levels that will upgrade a stat. The platforming is very basic (you can do a single jump and nothing else) but it’s a fun change of pace that I really wasn’t expecting in a retro FPS.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d appreciate the old school DOOM aesthetic of Nightmare Reaper, but they really captured those pixely monsters and sinister stylings. The best visual moment is when you die, because your character just stares at her bloody hands until they revert to normal and she wakes up in her room. It’s just a nice touch, and thematically it really works.
I’ve got a lot of good things to say about Nightmare Reaper, but it has a fair amount of issues too. Perhaps the biggest of these is how dark so many of the early environments are. Even with the brightness on the Switch turned up to full there were rooms where I couldn’t see where I was going, which obviously isn’t ideal.
There are some issues with the balance of the game too, especially when you spawn into a level. On an early stage I only had a knife to keep myself alive, and the first room had an enemy that was way too tough to take down with a flimsy butter knife and I died immediately. There are also some rooms with traps that just decimate you with hundreds of flaming orbs until you can deactivate them, and they aren’t fun to deal with and usually end in disaster.
Nightmare Reaper is a great FPS Roguelike, with fast paced gameplay and a whole host of weird and wonderful weapons. The environments can be a little dark and the balance is lacking, but it’s hard to get too upset about it when you’re throwing ninja stars at zombies.
Fast paced boomer shooter gameplay
A shed load of weapons to use
The upgrade platforming levels are cool
Not too punishing with the Roguelike elements
Is way too visually dark
Isn't always fair with the difficulty
Traps aren't fun to deal with
The asylum made my eyes roll a little