By Josh Speer / January 10th, 2018
|Title||The End is Nigh|
|Developer||Edmund McMillen, Tyler Glaiel|
|Release Date||December 12th, 2017|
|Age Rating||M for Mature – Strong Language|
I consider myself somewhat of a hardcore platformer enthusiast. This is partly because I enjoy them, but also because I generally have the necessary reflexes and inherent stubbornness to stick with them when they get brutal. Having said that, I am not a giant fan of Super Meat Boy, which felt like it was always killing you with ridiculous expectations and the requirement for total perfection. While The End is Nigh can hardly be called an easy game, there’s just something about it that appealed to me more. I see it as a weird mixture of two other games by Ed McMillen, The Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy. The End is Nigh features elements of both games but somehow manages to tow the line difficulty-wise. The question then is, how did I enjoy this brutal platformer, and was I even able to fully complete it?
The game starts at the end of the world. The apocalypse has come and gone, and most of humanity has been obliterated. One sole survivor is the plucky protagonist, Ash. It’s odd Ash is so optimistic, since he’s been reduced to just a head and part of a foot, but he keeps on persisting. At least, until his game console dies on him. Suddenly everything is horrible, and the only thing left for Ash to do is go and make a friend. Literally. His goal is to find a head, heart, and body and put them together. Leave logic at the door, because The End is Nigh isn’t a rational adventure so much as one tied together by humor and magical thinking. Oh and one other thing, which is the difficulty of the game.
I know I said the game feels somehow less difficult than Super Meat Boy, and that’s mostly true, with some provisos. For the first half of the game, when you’re wandering through the wasteland and finding body parts, the game always felt fair. You were never presented with goals that were insurmountable, just ones that constantly challenged you to approach things differently until you meet success. Granted, the expectations only ramp up area by area, but still, part of me expected more. That expectation was borne out in the second half of the game, which I will discuss later.
The gameplay is utter simplicity. Since Ash is pretty much just a head, all he can do is run, jump and cling to edges with his foot. While there is a lot of nuance to be found, such as learning to grasp the sides of spike-laden surfaces, the basic gameplay is kept simple so you can focus on the platforming challenges without worrying about a lot of unnecessarily flashy abilities. While I love games like Guacamelee, it tended to get overwhelming with the number of things you could do as the game progressed. Not so in The End is Nigh. As you progress in the game you’ll learn some additional moves, such as flinging yourself from a ledge or ground pounding through blocks, but those abilities are easy to internalize. The only thing that takes some getting used to is remembering to hold the ZL button when heading towards an edge to automatically make Ash cling to it, instead of falling to your death.
Your basic goal in the game, besides finding the 3 body parts needed to build a friend, is just to get through each level intact. You’ll die a lot, but you have infinite lives, so that’s not a concern. I quickly stopped caring about whether I died or not, so long as I learned from my mistakes. And you’ll make a lot of them, since the game is also quite huge, comprised of 600 something levels. As if that wasn’t enough, each area has hidden routes that lead you to juicy collectibles and deviously hidden game cartridges which you can play back at your residence (thankfully the game also has a Warp option, so you can easily return to any area you’ve beaten at any time). These game cartridges are complete mini-games, along with their own achievements. They provide some fun diversion from the main game, without overstaying their welcome.
The other thing I strongly encourage you to do is collect as many Tumors as possible. No, you didn’t hear me wrong, I did say Tumors. You’ll find them liberally strewn in hard to reach corners of stages. After you pick one up, you need to exit the screen you’re on to keep them, so I would often exit from the beginning of a room to keep my hard earned Tumors. At first, it’s unclear what purpose they serve, other than to unlock hidden stages that are phenomenally difficult. Once you reach the second half of the game, you’ll quickly realize that the total number of Tumors you’ve collected becomes your number of lives. If you run out, you’re forced to start the level over from the beginning with your Tumor amount reset or warp back to the first part of the game to find more Tumors. This makes the second half of the game much harder than it already is since it’s essentially the hard version of every stage you’ve beaten. I managed to get through most of the first series of hard stages, aptly named Anguish, but wasn’t quite able to get to area 2 with 100+ lives. Though I am trying to maximize my Tumor collection, it will be a while till I’ve found enough to feel confident I can get farther. Which brings me to one complaint, the difficulty.
While the first half of the game feels very well balanced, despite the increasing difficulty, the second half of the game is crazy hard. They fill the stages with instant death traps and cruel enemies which hunt you down if you sit still, and it frankly isn’t that fun. Even for someone that considers themselves good at platformers, I feel woefully overwhelmed by the second half of The End is Nigh. While I do intend to beat it eventually, I was sadly unable to do so before writing this review. I strongly suspect I’ll be playing the game for months and years to come before I’m able to get close to 100% completing the game and unlocking what I’m sure is the true ending.
Visually speaking, The End is Nigh sticks to the “simple is better” motto, and it works great. Stages are generally two-toned colors that don’t distract but also do a great job of conveying the flavor of the game. This is such a strange mixture of humor, hopelessness and bitter difficulty, but it all works surprisingly well. I especially enjoyed the curse word-laden cutscenes, where Ash swears a blue streak about his circumstances. The music, composed by Tyler Glaiel, is a list of somber and frenetic classical tunes. It’s nothing life-changing, but the music does a good job of distinguishing stages and keeping you glued to the game. Special note goes to the disturbing sound effects, which are squishy and wet. Combined with the art, it makes for an attractive package.
Speaking of packages, the version of the game I reviewed was the physical edition, chock full of goodies such as an instruction booklet (props to Nicalis for still caring about those). While the physical edition is great, it’s also the pricey version, selling for $29.99 as opposed to the digital version, which is only $14.99. So if you don’t care about having a physical collection, I’d say digital is the way to go.
In summation, after 5+ hours, I have somewhat mixed feelings about The End is Nigh. On the one hand, it’s fun in a brutally challenging way, and it’s utterly unlike most other games I’ve played, other than those developed by Ed McMillen. On the other hand, the balance feels a bit skewed in the latter half of the game, and even the first half might prove too much except for truly hardcore fans. I would say that for those who like a hefty challenge and enjoy platformers, The End is Nigh is worth getting. For everybody else, it’s really not for you.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Edmund McMillenHardcoreNicalisplatformerReviewSwitchThe End is NighTyler Glaiel