Nightmare Reaper
Title Nightmare Reaper
Developer Blazing Bit Games
Publisher Blazing Bit Games, Feardemic
Release Date March 28, 2022 (Full PC Release), May 18, 2023 (Console)
Genre Rogue-lite FPS
Platform PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
Age Rating Rated M for Mature
Official Website

Over time, first person shooters have so many influences that it can be hard to keep track. We got Doom and Quake for emphasizing fast paced action and mobility. There’s the Build engine games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior that focused on interactivity and exploring the potential of weapons and what roles they provide. Then there is System Shock that provides a rich atmosphere and tactical gameplay sense. All of these had an impact on how developers designed games coming forth since the 2000s, even if Quake was the one to play a very large part of that.

Many of these titles, as such, influence the gameplay of Nightmare Reaper, an FPS that aims to have rogue-lite and looter shooter elements. There are a whole slew of other influences as said on the developer’s website for the game such as Blood and Rise of the Triad. Aesthetically, I can definitely see some of the influences from Blood in terms of having more gothic enemy and environment design. You traverse through mines, forests, and small villages and towns, all stage elements that were featured in Blood. However, I don’t exactly see how Rise of the Triad influences the game. Mechanically, it does have rocket jumping, bunny hopping, and even a couple more modern additions such as a dash and multiple jumps as upgrades. With all of these influences, it would be a challenge to make them mesh well together. Overall, the game shows why, which I will get into.

Nightmare Reaper | Enemy goes boom

First, the plot is much in the background where it’s very easy to not really delve into it. A lot of it is hinted at in the doctor’s notes you can read, gaining an additional page after every stage. Much of it hints at the player character’s psyche and why they are even in a hospital ward to begin with, along with the doctor’s comments on treatment. The hospital itself is surprisingly atmospheric, hearing the screams of other patients and the strange drawings the player character presumably makes in their room. There is even a shadowy figure one can rarely see. You gain access to more areas of the hospital over the course of playing, even unlocking another bed that leads to the wave-based arenas.

Of course, this is a game about killing things, so hop into bed to go into the nightmare realm and start shooting zombies and demons to your heart’s content. Levels are organized within major areas in the game that house their own set of rooms able to be generated. As such, while the actual room generation is relatively simple, you at least see new rooms over the course of the game. It also introduces more and more enemies into the pool, which can lead to a chaotic arrangement of enemies in a single room. Makes me wonder if it would’ve been a good idea to remove early enemies or have a single selection of opponents for each area in the game. This is especially apparent when the enemy variety is surprisingly high.

However, in order to kill things you want a weapon, and there are over 80 to choose from. You have your traditional pistols and shotguns, but there are also magical tomes, staffs, a cryo cannon, a strange worm-like being, power boots, literally too many to name. In order to get the weapon availability this high, however, there are a few concessions made. Predominately, many weapons are direct upgrades from one weapon to another. Easiest example is the single-shot grenade launcher compared to the multi-barrel grenade launcher, having multiple rounds to hold along with different firing modes. Now, weapons are divided into  different levels, three in my experience, so lower level weapons are intentionally not as strong as the higher level ones. Combined with a rarity system that dictates special effects to make two of the same weapons different at all, you are somewhat spoiled for choice here. Now, you can’t bring back every weapon from one level to another, so you have to choose what you like most, even going as far as forcing you to pick a lower level weapon until you get upgrades to keep the higher ones. Even then, I believe it probably would’ve been better to truncate the weapon selection down, that way there is focus on weapons with either the most interesting mechanics or “wow” factor. I like the M1 Garand after dumping the magazine but it is in the same game as grenade launchers, occult weapons, a katana that can cause sword waves, and spiked remote mines akin to classic Shadow Warrior. It’s a tough ask for me to keep using it barring liking the gun and it is what I have on hand.

Nightmare Reaper | The skill tree

But wait, there’s more. There are three trees—yes, three–to invest into in order to increase your killing prowess. These are the skill tree, the jade tree, and the topaz tree. What you get out of them are all of the game’s upgrades and they all have different currencies. The skill tree is the most universal of them, having ability upgrades and major stat increases dotted throughout. You use the gold found in the levels in order to play a minigame styled as a simple, retro-esque 2D platformer, where even the world map is akin to Super Mario Bros 3. The topaz tree uses topaz, which is gained after beating a level, where you capture and raise abstract monsters to battle other trainers to gain incremental stat increases. Yes, it’s literally just simple Pokémon. It is also how you gain access to pills that you select before heading to sleep, modifying certain aspects of the game such as health drops. The jade tree uses jade earned from the arenas and it focuses more on situational upgrades like immunity to lava and acid. Though it does have the ledge grab upgrade so that warrants a slot. The minigame for this is essentially Gradius. This is where the game can feel bloated with ideas, even if it is all done to have the player keep doing runs over and over. Again, it would’ve been best to reduce the amount to just the skill tree, but perhaps allow another way to get pills and the smaller upgrades.

This also leads to a small conflict with the game’s tone. This is a game all about blasting enemies with blood and guts flying around the room, reveling in the violence akin to Caleb. Why is my menu a Gameboy Advance SP, where I insert GBA cartridges to access trees whose minigames and UI calls back to video games that have no relation to that of Doom, Duke Nukem, or Blood? Maybe this dissonance is intentional, as the game’s real world is in a psyche ward where perhaps these were the games the player character played as a kid. At the same time, it feels extremely disconnected with the overarching game. This isn’t the same disconnect to that of the possibility of the game’s Wolfenstein-esque secrets, which might house something more akin to an easter egg instead of treasure. There is a difference between a moment of whimsy and wonder, versus something I experience across the entire game.

There are other minor oddities to the game’s design, as well. As mentioned before, secrets might not house treasure to gain from them. However, the game tracks the enemy kill count, the treasure found, and secrets uncovered. Killing all enemies, finding all treasure, and uncovering every secret rewards bonus gold each. Yet, the game only shows you the enemy and treasure count during the actual level, only showing secrets after you get to the results screen. For the sake of 100%, I never truly know if I’ve gotten every secret. This wouldn’t be an issue in most games, but this is a rogue-lite, so I am always in the dark in this regard until an upgrade apparently that can clue you in that a secret is nearby.

Nightmare Reaper | The Village

There is a random chance to meet this stranger, who most likely represents the doctor, where they will either buy the weapon you used the most in the given level or are willing to change the stats of a weapon in exchange for gold. However, because of how precious gold is for the skill tree, it feels wasteful to change stats at all. For another oddity, browsing through the menu feels awfully sluggish. It takes a surprising amount of time just to go from one option to the next. It isn’t even a confusing menu to navigate, it just takes forever to go through it at all. Bunny hopping also is intentionally limited by a speed cap which hurts the point of bunny hopping to begin with.

With all that said, these issues pale in comparison to a console-exclusive issue. For some reason, the acceleration for aiming is zero to max all the time. It’s not like other games that typically have a small amount of time required to have the camera’s acceleration hit the max turn speed to begin with. Here, merely tapping the stick results in a large minimal distance traveled. This makes precise aiming nigh impossible, necessitating moving the character in order to assist with the aiming process. It’s notable that even aiming assist fails to fully adjust for this. This is a game killer for me, especially if the end result is a movement intensive shooter with a bunch of enemies to slaughter. I can kind of adjust to this awkward style of play, albeit exasperated all the more on the Switch, but I would much rather be playing on a mouse at that point.

In terms of the game’s aesthetic, it’s okay. Nothing’s bad but I wouldn’t say anything particularly stands out, as I’ve seen many of these graphical styles and lighting on games that run on GZDoom. The pixel aesthetic has a decent amount of detail, though the enemy visual design is not too interesting. It does look off when an enemy dies however, as it somewhat feels like I shot at a cardboard cutout due to how the sprite turns and plops down onto the ground. The environment has a decent amount of clutter, enough to give a sense of atmosphere once the action is over with. Andrew Hulshult created an okay soundtrack for the game, though the tracks don’t have enough presence and substance to them that I can remember them. Overall, the game in merely okay in this regard.

Nightmare Reaper | Chaingun time

So yeah, I think the game’s biggest issue was scope creep. It needed more focus as there are just too many gameplay and system elements fighting for attention to really spruce things up at an individual level. If we are talking about FPS games from smaller devs, this is competing for attention from titles such as Dusk, Prodeus, Metal: Hellsinger, and Cultic. That is some heavy competition to be going against in this day and age. It doesn’t help that Nightmare Reaper is $24.99 on Steam, and $26.99 on console. It’s far from bad in the end, even if I recommend the PC version exclusively, but the competition it has is particularly high. Look into this if you are interested in a game with random layouts, events, and a lot of bonus content to be had.

Review Score

Review copy provided by the publisher

Marisa Alexander
With a flair of both eccentricity and normalcy. Lives in New England, where the weather is about as chaotic as limbo. Have enjoyed gaming since before schooling and have signed up for many AP and Honor HS classes in order to succeed in life. Is extraordinarily analytical, opinionated, and caring.