Nightmare Reaper is a revelation of first-person shooters, one that successfully melds modern tech and ideas with nostalgic design. Blazing Bit Games have done the impossible by making a retro FPS, roguelite, and looter shooter all-in-one. This shouldn’t work as an idea, but it does greatly. If you were tiring on this sub-genre of retro FPS games, do not sleep on what is one of the most refreshing entries. Nightmare Reaper features several strokes of genius to be an unrelenting, chaotic, brutal first-person shooter that has it all, and more.
The game begins with a young woman in a hospital gown who is finally dealing with her wounds through therapy. This is also in addition to being confronted with the trauma in her mind when she goes to sleep. For at least the first chapter, it’s linear series of levels that are randomized each time you play them, making the entire playthrough unique. For at least 20-25 hours, you’ll be combating devilish foes of all types with whatever weapons you can find. Each victory begets you closer to overcoming the existential threat to your mind. If it isn’t painfully obvious by now, Nightmare Reaper is a literal metaphor of fighting her demons borne from her childhood trauma.
The big, chunky pixels that you see in Nightmare Reaper is all made possible thanks to the Unreal Engine. When looking or playing it, it’s quite the mind-bend as the 2.5D visuals are reminiscent of the Build Engine that powered Duke Nukem 3D, yet the large sprites callback to the idTech Engine for the original DOOM; it’s as if the two had a fiendish child together. It’s brutal viscera is fully on display, even more so if you turn up the gore to “ludicrous”. This is a game that revels in its blood, and you will too.
The shotguns in this game are good, like really good, and I’m not just talking about the modifiers you’ll find on them. When a game’s shotguns are good, then it’s a good game. As you complete a level, you’re only allowed to keep one weapon no matter how many you’ve found up until the end. I had a Level 1 uncommon shotgun with random projectile property that lasted me the entirety of Chapter 1, roughly thirty levels. I had toyed with dropping it for a double-barreled shotgun that consumed one less ammo and did shock damage. But what actually converted me was an assault rifle resembling an AK-47 with shock damage and an additional explosive round. I’d like keep both, but I’m not there yet. You’ll want to diversify your arsenal. While yes you can’t keep your weapons, you do want to have a loadout to get to the end of any given level. Magic weapons do a good job of keeping enemies at bay thanks to whatever elemental property is attached. There are melee weapons you can use, but in most cases you never want to be that close where you have to use it. Yet if you’re out of ammo, your standard kick isn’t gonna cut it, not in the early game anyway. Like any good shooter of yore, weapon swapping is a necessity as well as movement.
There’s a whole 80 weapons with 30 different modifiers, and even a touted 174 fire modes. All elemental damage breaks down to fire, ice, and electricity. Each weapon as I’ve talked about has a rarity, and some modifiers that make it unique. This is how the looter shooter fits into the game, and it’s a really nice inclusion. There are times if you clear a whole area, a dude in white trench coat will have some sort of offer to sell you: upgrade an existing weapon as new rarity, swap out a chosen property for something at random, or sell your most-used weapon for a higher than normal price. I would use the former two options, but never the last. It just was never a risk worth taking. I haven’t seen everything there is, but I’ve yet to see one permutation repeat.
Nightmare Reaper doesn’t have difficulty selection, but I would say it ramps up appropriately to get you ready for what’s to come. Chapter 1 has its surprises and tough encounters, but Chapter 2 is when it throws everything including the kitchen sink at you. Just about in any game these days, you’re given a grappling hook to navigate the spaces. With infinite reach, it’s a life saver in getting you out of sticky situations that are randomly generated before you. The game has some great power-ups that offset any challenge that becomes too hard. A turtle that will slow down time allowing you to shoot everyone in your vicinity before they’ve had a chance to reach. The horse water power-up makes your shots shoot twice as fast. And then reflection which is a literal mirror of your existing weapon in the other hand for double the damage and output. Couple this with any of the other power-ups and you’ll eviscerate a level in no time. The titular Nightmare Reaper is a power-up in it of itself, throwing devastating balls of energy, or a concentrated beam of energy as its alt-fire. You know when you’ve found it, because it’s hot sauce.
The roguelite parts of the game emphasize the “light”. I said earlier that you only get to keep one weapon to bring to the next level. That’s all based on the notion that you complete the level, die before doing so and whatever random superweapon you wanted to keep is lost to RNGods. Succumbing to death has little consequence in that sure you’ll lose all your weapons, but not the coins you’ve collected. This tabula rasa of replaying a level is a welcome one as you’ll earn more money for upgrades and likely get a better layout to surpass a badly generated level the time before.
Chapter 1 is a linear set of episodes. It’s then that Chapter 2 is fully open, allowing you to choose the order of the sets of levels you’ll be playing next. Chapter 3 features another shift to the gameplay and way you play the levels. There are about ninety levels in Nightmare Reaper, to an exhausting degree, actually. Interestingly, there’s no way to replay levels you’ve played – even if that meant getting another layout. There is a New Game+ that will carry over your progression, up to three times.
Nightmare Reaper has tons of secrets to find, which are indicated by cracks in walls that can only be opened by using your kick to reveal what treasures can be found behind it. There are bonuses for getting gold, killing all enemies, finding all secrets, and accruing all treasures. It’s fairly easy to do this without trying too hard, but later game levels become so expansive that it does then require more effort to achieve. But this is all optional, though the benefits of going for it are a very alluring goal to have.
There’s a healthy amount of enemies to be found in the game, and while you’re encounter a lot of the same types, and how they’re used is really clever. You’ll fight enemies like a gunslinger, a white puffy pustule that births tiny versions of itself that explode in proximity to you, or even monks that cast spells and teleport all around you; and this is hardly the full gamut of what you’ll experience. There’s also elite versions of every enemy type, each with its own modifier. Sometimes they’re shielded, sometimes they explode on death, or set you aflame just by being near you. They require a lot of ammo to kill, but when these blood pinatas bust open, the laughter from the protagonist upon their death is satisfying all its own.
There’s three separate ways to improve your character, all done through different mini-games by accessing your not-Nintendo DS. The first of which is a skill tree that’s played just like Super Mario Bros. 3, complete with overworld and everything. You’ll spend your hard-earned coin to participate, but by playing you’ll get a return on your investment to not incur the full cost – it’s not much, but it’s enough. The next of which is a Pokémon-style game where you capture creatures, train them, feed them, and fight them for rewards. The last of which is a simple space shooter akin to Gradius. Each provides bonuses or enhancements to increasing max the ammo you carry, how much life you start with, reducing fall damage, and even negating splash damage you do to yourself. There’s even an upgrade to let you carry four weapons, where you can balance a loadout consisting of light, heavy, energy, and melee weapons. There’s a hidden arenas mode that you can sleep in a different bed to play endless rounds until death to earn mini-game currency to further excel in their participation. Now if none of that sounds exciting, you can turn off individual mini-games to include all of them, just spend the currency for an upgrade and move on.
While not a disappointment, Nightmare Reaper only uses auto-saves. You can manage multiple save games, but you can’t manual or quick save at your leisure. I had no issues with this system, but it was certainly odd given the type of game it is, as it was the first non-retro accommodation to be found.
One of my favorite features of the game is the random events that occur during play, with no warning. Sometimes you’ll be swarmed by tons of mini-Calebs from Blood, or have a room lockdown requiring you to clear the entire area, crystals that endlessly spawn enemies, or for whatever reason a hundred barrels will spawn in; the last of which is horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
Nightmare Reaper is a different kind of retro shooter, one you should absolutely play. This is metal incarnate with a blistering soundtrack from the hallowed Andrew Hulshult. It has some mild frustrations, but there’s an exhausting amount of content that’s either excellent or even optional like its mini-games. The retro FPS is enhanced by a looter shooter arsenal, and roguelite randomization is exceedingly well done and incredibly fun. When I say there’s nothing like Nightmare Reaper, there really is nothing like Nightmare Reaper.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes