Nefarious

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by StarBlade for PC, originally released in 2017.
Nefarious is an action game that puts you in the role of the villain rather than the hero. Instead of rescuing the princess, you are capturing princesses so that you can use them as an energy source to power a huge weapon that will allow you to take over the world. Instead of entering arenas and taking on bosses in mechanized contraptions, you are piloting said contraptions to smash the heroes of each land, each of whom is trying to put a stop to your, er… nefarious plans.


The villain of the tale is Crow, who comes from a long line of bird-named villains, and he narrates his own introduction as he blasts onto the scene on the back of a speeding truck with a pink-clad princess slung over his shoulder. Then he begins smashing his way through police cars, police robots, and the police themselves on the way back to his airship.


Along the way, Crow is pursued by an armored hero in blue who attempts to wrest the princess from his grasp… This ends with the hero breaking up with his princess/girlfriend because she spends more time with the villain than she does with him, on account of being repeatedly kidnapped, and the hero flies off without a fight. The game’s narrative is built entirely upon toying with established gaming tropes, in particular lampooning the silly gaming logic surrounding the kidnapping of princesses.


As the villain, you command a huge airship filled with your minions, a savvy personal assistant, and numerous robotic servants, along with an upgrade shop where you can spend currency collected in each of the levels. As more princesses are placed in the brig, some additional silly dialogue becomes available, along with some odd side-missions, and the possibility of reaching a secret ending.


Crow begins the game with three (evil) hearts in his health bar, which can be lost in half-heart increments, and he can perform a 2x variable jump. He is able to punch in any direction and can also aim and fire independently of movement. Both of these abilities are upgradeable, allowing for stronger punches and longer reach, and bouncing grenades can be swapped for sticky grenades, rockets, or machine gun fire.


Projectile weapons draw from a secondary meter that refills at a moderate rate over time, but some defeated enemies drop canisters that refill one unit immediately, allowing the player to enter enemy-infested areas and deliver a steady stream of destruction with ammunition refilling quickly. This secondary meter is also upgradeable by spending currency in your shipboard shop. Explosives perform a secondary function by allowing Crow to boost his jump to reach higher platforms, although this is an optional maneuver that is generally only required to reach collectibles, and some secondary weapons do not have an explosive effect.


Collectibles include currency of various denominations and treasure chests that must be punched open, and each level also contains three crowns and a record that unlocks one of the game’s music tracks. Each level has its own unique and upbeat theme which fits with the aesthetics of the level, and some offer silliness of their own, such as buzzing in the bee-themed level, or the Winterdown National Anthem which is an operatic song with lyrics comprised entirely of the full name of the nation’s princess.


Most levels offer a straightforward action-platforming experience with the player running and jumping through the environment, avoiding obstacles and insta-death pitfalls, and dispatching enemies on his way to find the princess. Checkpoints are fairly frequent, but getting killed causes the player to lose some currency, which may be regained by revisiting the place where his life was ended. Additionally, some destroyed enemies drop canisters containing hearts, each of which restores one unit of health.


Once you’ve nabbed a princess, it’s time to make your way to the end of the level and return to your airship, but gameplay often shifts upon rescuing a princess. For instance, the bee princess allows you to jump much higher, offering some late-level platforming challenges; another princess causes smoke from lobbed grenades to turn into temporary platforms, allowing you to create your own path through the level, while avoiding enemies and insta-death obstacles; and yet another hops on your back and forces you to run through the environment while she swings at enemies with a battle axe and the icy ground breaks and shifts around you.


Most levels end in a boss encounter, generally reversing the trope of having a small hero facing off against a giant mechanical monstrosity piloted by the villain. Here, the player controls the mechanical creation and attempts to land repeated blows on the heroes… which are far more resilient than they are in most games, requiring more than a dozen strikes before they are destroyed. This can make battles drag on a bit as the player has only indirect control over the instruments needed to cause damage, and strategies do not change as the fights wear on.


For example, in one Robotnick-style contraption, Crow hovers over the hero in a spherical ship, whilst tugging a huge ball and chain. The player must move around the arena, attempting to swing the ball at the mobile hero, while the weight of the ball pulls the ship around. The hero has limited means with which to attack, including jumping on the ship when it is low to the ground, or building up a pile of honeycomb and leaping from it. The player may attack the hero directly or swing the ball with enough force to knock over the honeycomb stack, stunning the hero for a moment. However, each attack only reduces the hero's health by a sliver, which is a far cry from the fragility of the blue hedgehog that would normally be taking part in such a battle.


Another battle features Crow at the controls of a classically-styled giant robot that can raise and lower its fists to smash the hero. However, it takes a long time to wind up a shot, and the fists come down in different places depending on how high the arm was lifted, which can make it difficult to line up an attack. Occasionally, the player needs to stop attacking in order to lean out of the way of the hero’s spinning axe attack. Here again, the battle is conceptually interesting but takes a long time to play out, even once the player understands the proper movement patterns.


There is some humor to be found throughout the adventure, as the player encounters each of the different heroes and even some of the game’s other villains (the princesses’ usual kidnappers). The game even takes some time to toy with other genres, including a boss fight that consists of a turn-based JRPG-style battle.


Levels are selected from a world map and may be replayed if the player would like another shot at locating all of the hidden collectibles. There are also a number of smaller side missions, including one that takes the player through the Villain Museum to learn more about Crow’s villain-packed ancestry, and a level where Crow helps one of the princesses by piloting a submarine on a treasure hunt.



2D CRED
Nefarious was developed by Louisiana-based studio StarBlade, which includes artist and designer Josh Hano and programmer and designer Phillip Spear, both of whom worked together on Tadpole Treble and Swap Drop Poker, and Philip also worked on the Road Rash-inspired Road Redemption. Music for the game was composed by Matthew, Paul, Darlene, and Sarah Taranto, as well as DoubleCleff. The game was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

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