Nightmare Reaper Throws Everything and the Kitchen Sink at the Boomer Shooter
Riffing on the classics with some quirky twists
It seems that the current retro FPS revival is only going from strength to strength. If you’re unfamiliar, these games, often called boomer shooters (which isn’t accurate in a generational sense but does in a gameplay one, also it rhymes), are heavily influenced by FPS classics such as Quake, Doom, and Hexen in both gameplay and visual style.
There seem to be two main ways of thinking when making a boomer shooter. One is to adhere to tradition with a handful of satisfying weapons and sets of levels with keys to hunt down. My personal favourite in this genre is Dusk, which asks the question ‘what if there was a new game that is like Quake?’, and is a fantastic game that is like Quake. The other is to take the old school FPS and add modern twists to it such as a roguelike structure or upgradable skills. Nightmare Reaper from Blazing Bit Games, which has just left early access and is now in full release, is very much the latter. It has the faux 3D aesthetic of Doom-era shooters but dumps a big pile of game systems on top of it.
Let's go through the list. For starters, it’s a roguelike of sorts, with procedurally generated levels that need to be beaten in one try (no save-scumming here). It has loot in the form of a huge range of weapons that come from downed enemies with randomised perks. You’ll also be picking up coins and treasure for your three skill trees. Well, they’re not skill trees in a traditional sense - they’re more novel than that.
Your menu takes the form of a Gameboy Advance SP, which has three game cartridges to pick up through the game. The first one takes the form of a Super Mario 3 style overworld, with each level being a new stat boost or ability. You then can play a janky little Mario knock-off to earn your upgrade (it can be turned off if you just want to get the upgrade). There’s also a Pokemon knock off and a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up that double as skill trees. Each minigame/skill tree requires its own currency - the shoot ‘em up requires coins you earn from playing an unlockable wave-based arena mode. There’s a lot here.
Going back to the game's structure, it's kind of a strange mix of roguelike and traditional levels. As I said, the levels are procedurally generated and you have to beat them in one go. But win or lose, you're kicked back into the hub area, so you can't go on an extended run of any kind. On the flip side, you're not losing much progress by dying. Which begs the question: why be a roguelike at all? It's not a lack of content - I spent 8 hours going through the first of three chapters, which changed scenery every two or three levels. It likely has to do with how the game handles weapons.
Throughout a level, you will be picking up a wide variety of weapons, from trusty shotguns and rocket launchers, to melee weapons like swords and chainsaws, to magic staffs, spell books, and more. There are three levels of weapons along with three tiers of rarity, with added stat boosts and elemental effects to match. When you successfully complete a level, you can pick one Level One weapon (at least, to begin with) and have to sell the rest.
Picking the right weapon to carry over is key to getting on a roll in Nightmare Reaper. Early on, I managed to get a staff, which is weak but has unlimited ammo, with explosive shots, and that really helped me get into the game as I could start levels all guns/staffs blazing. I think this is the system that gels best with the classic fast-paced FPS gameplay. Killing enemies can lead to new weapons or health orbs, which means there is that push forward kind of gameplay that drives the newer Doom games. You're rewarded for taking a risk and facing off against stronger monsters or big hordes, both of which quickly escalates to a chaotic screen full of explosions, fire, ice, and/or lightning. And blood, plenty of it.
Nightmare Reaper throws everything and a kitchen sink full of guns at the boomer shooter genre. Not all of it works, but the foundations are strong enough that it's a pretty easy recommendation for someone who's already played the likes of Dusk and Amid Evil and is looking for something new in that vein. If it does click for you, it looks like you'll have dozens of hours of FPS goodness to sink your teeth into.
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