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Nightmare Reaper review: a retro-styled FPS that hits more than it misses

Oh sow good

Nightmare Reaper is what you'd get if you crossed Minecraft with Doom and sprinkled it with the ashes of a roguelite. You blast through procedurally generated woods and sewers, bursting enemies for cash and channeling your profits into a skill tree that's also your own psyche. It's rad, basically, but its roguelite dusting doesn't quite hit the mark when a literal nightmare is turning into a metaphorical one.

Nightmare Reaper is a retro-styled FPS in which you play an unnamed patient of a psychiatric ward where, by day, you're cooped up in a little cell filled with scrawlings on the walls and mysterious notes that detail ominous experiments. Lay yourself down in bed and night and that's your ticket to Nightmareville, filled with raging demons and M1 Garands and buckets of blood. There are no nice dreams here! Only procedurally generated journeys into a hellscape that get tougher the more often you go beddy-byes.

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But in a way you've got to give it to the nightmares, because they're pretty cool. They're a throwback to the FPS genre's grand age of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, with strafes aplenty and keys that come in two colours: red and blue. There are modern touches, though, like being able to scope-in with rifles to deliver precise headshots, and enforced slow-mo so that when heads pop like melons under a truck wheel, the game lets you bask in the ensuing giblet rain.

And while there isn't a literal truck to drive over enemies, the game's arsenal covers practically every other base. There's a wasp queen's head that spits clouds of wasps like a witch at a talent show. Railguns topple skeletons like bowling balls in a doctor's surgery. Get lucky and you might find an eyeball drone that'll swim into enemies and burn them to a crisp. Genuinely, the variety is off the chain. Speaking of chains, there's a flail. And a katana. Also books that summon your own skeleton army.

A necromancer's book blasts an enemy with electricity in Nightmare Reaper.
I picked up a wizard's book that shot bursts of lightning or electro-balls if you charged it up with a right click. It even electrified a pool of water and zapped all the enemies inside, which was a neat touch.

And all the weapons you find go from bargain bucket grey, to rarer blue, to epic purple and beyond. They spring out of chests or enemies you down. Occasionally, they'll lurk at the end of a challenge room, which involves a touch of platforming to break things up a bit. You'll need to jump across tiny ledges, avoid spikes, and flame traps. Not quite on par with flying in a lucid dream, but hey ho.

The game's levels are almost as varied as its arsenal, morphing enough to keep the nightmares suitably twisted. Gloomy woods? Love 'em. There's a lot of that early on. But as you reap, you also visit moody towns and sulfuric mines. Neon green sewers and a city with cold industrial sectors. Each is reminiscent more of Minecraft than they are, say, Doom, thanks to tight voxel corridors that open into arenas, then constrict again. Their tightknit nature works nicely, keeping you uncomfortably close to the gore and rewarding you once in a while with a messy tango that'll let you flex your arsenal.

Of course, reaping means something else too: sowing. You whip out a copyright free Gameboy SP and play copyright free Super Mario and not-Pokémon mini-games to make your character grow stronger. It's in both of these that you spend coins from mulched enemies on upgrades to your ammo count or health pool or whatnot. While quite a fun concept for the first few rounds, the mini-games soon become a bit of a faff that you'd rather trade for an instant level-up, as opposed to a Bouldermon. That's the thing, too; these mini-games are over-simplistic and pretty janky, making them a largely joyless affair after a few repeat runs.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you've worked to make your nightmares a little dreamier, you may not be able to escape a tough start. Some levels are just generated more tricky than others. You may have picked the wrong gun to kickstart your campaign, which is an issue when you're faced with dinky dragons that nip at you like horseflies, zombies as tall and fast as Paul Radcliffe, and mecha-spiders with a penchant for missiles. Death isn't punishing – which is nice – but if you're stuck in a rut, you may become reliant on the procedural generation or a random weapon drop to free you from, well, a nightmare. Waiting for strings of code to align in your favour can be quite frustrating, to say the least.

The player aims at a rifle at a massive monster in an underwater area.

And experiencing the frustration of a nightmare that won't budge shines a spotlight on an empty space. When you wake up in the psychiatric ward after a bad run, there's no other option but to go back to sleep and repeat the cycle. It feels like there's a connective tissue missing between life and death here. While the ward's mystery grows as you play, it would benefit from a little something to make the limbo a bit more meaningful, whether that's in extra upgrades or even a prompt to spend your cash. As it is, the choice of framing feels like nothing much more than edgy wrapping paper.

Ultimately Nightmare Reaper's a fun retro-styled FPS with a couple of rogue-lite elements to introduce some loot-fuelled pizazz to bloody proceedings. While it lack of full commitment to the rogue-lite reward loop knocks it a touch - you're still in for a treat. The game's sheer volume of randomised weaponry and twisty levels make it worth picking up for retro FPS veterans or newbies alike.

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