In order to fall in line with the many ethical reviewers out there I will have to inform you up front that I was given a review code by the developer themselves. I can assure you that it will take a LOT more than a free code to get me to change my opinion of the product in any way shape or form but I do encourage developers to test my ironclad principles by sending as much free shit as possible to my PO box. Thank you very much and let me just say in advance that I loved [INSERT GAME HERE]. And that’s a Robek.world quote!
Happy New Year everyone! As we step into this new decade I’d like to give myself a half hearted resolution that doesn’t make me want to bash my brains in. Something we all love: playing new games from new developers. Y’know, I’ve been playing games for awhile now. Most assuredly enough to be called a gamer. I’d like to think I keep my finger right on the pulse of the electronic children’s toy industry. Although I may be almighty I am unfortunately, for myself and all those around me, not omnipotent (another quality I’d like to rectify this year). Every now and again a great game slips under my ever watchful eye. It happens to the best of us, and I bet it happens to you too you goddamned hypocrites! Thankfully for all of us Necrolepsy didn’t avoid my all powerful gaze and I can now force you lovely readers to enter 2020 having learned of my experience. Maybe you can tell that girl at the gym and really get her ovaries going.
Necrolepsy is an action adventure platformer, or metroidvania for all you buzzword enthusiasts out there. You play as Lira, a spunky bounty hunter cursed with Necrolepsy(tm) by a group of multi colored tokusatsu necromancers. This dreaded curse inhibits our hero’s ability to rest; dragging her nightmares into reality and making her journeys exceptionally more difficult as time goes on. Lira sets off with the help of her friend Bart in order to stop the curse and return to her normal life of being rude, not looking old, and bounty hunting sometimes.
If you’ve spent more than three seconds browsing a video game and/or Cantonese cave painting forum you should know what a metroidvania is. If somehow you don’t then let me explain it poorly to you: A mishmash of the castlevania/metroid style where you explore and unlock different paths by finding power ups and weapons along the way (and maybe even friends, too!). Necrolepsy fits into this genre but it also steers heavily towards the action side with a focus on extended combo strings and enough juggling to satisfy a group of children from whenever the fuck people liked clowns. Each one of your moves has a satisfying amount of weight to them and can easily be strung together with other tools in your arsenal using the momentum you gain from each hit. I loved how natural stacking combo strings together felt and how smoothly you can transition from one attack to the next using moves such as the megaman-like slide or the almighty parry that can even counter death itself. Speaking of the slide I have to say that it is definitely my favorite part of Necrolepsy. I found myself constantly opting to travel using the rhythmic slide+jump movement over the actual dash that is 5x faster but also 5x less fun. Much like Devil May Cry’s style meter Necrolepsy encourages players to experiment with their combos by rewarding more gold per unique hit whenever you kill an enemy. This gold can then be spent on useful items and powerups back at your friendly neighborhood Orbiter’s store. These items will definitely come in handy throughout your adventures so it’s important to constantly be striving for more unique combos.
As you progress you’ll encounter a number of unique boss battles that almost always had me guessing. Just when I think that I have a boss figured out the game turns it up a notch and forced me to switch up my tactics. After you defeat each boss you’re rewarded with a weapon to help you along your journey. This means a lot of the bosses you fight will open up to a lot more strategies if you decide to revisit them or take a crack at the boss rush mode later down the line. One thing I wish I could have been able to do is opt out of certain weapons or attacks since after you defeat each boss you usually get a new weapon and often times these completely change how you attack. Though once you get towards the end of the game, which is admittedly quite short but with loads of replayability, it all sorta comes together and allows you to easily define your playstyle or combos. Your first playthrough will be pretty standard but after you beat the game once you unlock loads of different ways to play. These different modes switch up the game enough to refresh the experience. There really is a lot of wiggle room for experimentation that allows the player to create a unique experience for themselves without sacrificing any of the meat and bones to achieve that goal. There’s also a great training mode to let you practice and get those combos nailed down.
Necrolepsy’s main mechanic, and motivation for the entire plot, is the game’s ‘Nightmare Mode’. Nightmare mode begins once the timer at the top of the screen reaches zero. When this happens the scenery gets a tad bit spookier~ while giving enemies massive health and damage buffs. You can reset the timer and avoid the difficulty spike by saving at shrines or sleeping in convenient and suspiciously well made beds scattered across the maps. This mechanic is simple enough and gives the player some sense of urgency while exploring the levels. I kinda wish Nightmare Mode had bit more of an impact on the gameplay though. I would have liked for it to spawn more difficult monsters or mixup enemy placement rather than just turn regular enemies into damage sponges. Even just a more noticeable change in art would have been neat but judging by the budget and size of the developing team (or lack there of) I can understand why it would be much simpler than I would have liked. All that considered it serves it’s purpose quite well and gives Necrolepsy a good concept to play with as well as making the whole experience more memorable.
The levels in Necrolepsy are all really well made and the layout of each flows pretty nicely. One of my complaints for a lot of metroidvanias is how obvious roadblocks in progression are but Necrolepsy always had me guessing where the new route was after each step forward. Many of the pathways were hidden well enough to confuse me for quite awhile, and when I figured it out it wasn’t unrewarding in the slightest. Navigating each section is also pretty easy and doesn’t really feel too time consuming especially with fast travel at each save point. One issue I have with the Fast travel though is that it’s a bit difficult to understand exactly where you are on the map and which save point you’ve selected to travel to. A simple fix would just be a cursor letting the player know what they’re selecting. I really enjoyed the Entrances to each map that usually featured a very neat scrolling background and a nice landscape to gawk at. The art for each background even changes a bit as you progress! These areas always feel like a deep breath of fresh air before entering the confined platforming sections within that house countless nightmarish horrors.
Speaking of nightmarish horrors I really love each and every enemy design. Ranging from simple furries to ancient volcel dark wizards each enemy design is charming and impactful. Each design exuding with the obvious signs of love and care that went into it. I found myself just watching all the animations even if it meant my doom. Although the enemies are more than exceptionally well done I’m a bit mixed on the designs of our human characters. I understand the limitations a small budget indie title like this has so I won’t be too harsh about the art style but that being said it’s a bit reminiscent of the art you’d expect from that one girl in high school that knew how to draw “anime”. That being said every art asset outside of Lira in a few areas and Bart are really well done and make up for these complaints in my eyes. I even found myself starting to really like the goofy anime style as I went through the game. Lira herself actually looks pretty good in all her in game animations; my favorite being when you parry one of the vampire chads that try to suck your blood. Both of the characters have charming personalities and although some dialogue can get a bit too silly I found it all enjoyable and most importantly unobtrusive. I also quite enjoyed the music in the game which gave me a lot of Shoji Meguro vibes. Lots of funky bass and snappy percussion that always kept me groovin’.
Necrolepsy offers a lot in such a small package. A well executed combat system coupled with great level and enemy design leads you to a solid metroidvania with almost all the fat trimmed off. Almost all the fat is very important here because although Necrolepsy is tight and functional it doesn’t sacrifice any of it’s personality along the way. Every inch of this game exudes signs of the obvious love and care that was put into it’s creation and this is even more evident with how the developer has taken feedback. Stolken is constantly updating the game and fixing any bugs reported whenever he can; which is unfortunately rare these days. He also has a lot of video content on his youtube page where he plays Necrolepsy and details a lot of the inspiration he had from the art to the level designs.
It really was a treat playing Necrolepsy and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to showcase not only a great game but also a great developer. A surprising little indie gem that found it’s groove and did it well. Just the right amount of depth without being too much of a commitment and the focus on fun over efficiency will draw you in quick and leave you wanting more. In the end I just get a kick out of experiencing such a labor of love from someone that just enjoys making games. If the gameplay shines through all that, what more could you ask for?
[Below is a quick interview I had with the developer, Stolken. I originally asked these questions just to get a better idea of the game but felt it painted a great picture of the spirit of Necrolepsy and explains a lot about the game’s development process.]
What’s your game dev background? (Made any previous games? Worked on games?)
Well, my game development background is mostly school-related. I’ve made some small games on the side on my own with Unity before, but I mostly started on Necrolepsy fresh out of college, primarily out of frustration from my previous college. Suffice to say, I got it done by the time my peers were just about graduated so I’m glad I left (and got a smaller degree in software development in the meantime).
What was the budget for Necrolepsy?
Necrolepsy was about ~2000 dollars and I self-funded the game.
How many people worked on Necrolepsy?
At the very most, 6. I did the Directing, designing, Programming, writing, and the majority of the art. Nathaniel K Hearns and Isaac Carmack-Salsburry (no relation to John or Adrian, I asked) did the animations for certain things like enemies and bosses. Noah Aman did the music and sound effects. Paul T Meindl in the credits did a lot of QA testing that helped out big time before release, and JustDream in the credits is a Greek native that helped me with things like how Greek bars should look and translations of Greek messages found in Bart’s Bar.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when developing the game?
The biggest hurdle making this was time. I had to use it really well, and there were days where I was too depressed to work on it, or something else came up like work or school. I had some programming issues here and there, no biggie, art was annoying to do but it was no biggie either, though I prefer programming much more. But the thing is, if I’m not working on it, then nobody is working on it, because of it being mostly one-man, so I had to make sure I worked on it even on bad days.
What was your biggest inspiration when working on the game?
Castlevania Order of Ecclesia was the biggest, how it was still a platsplorer but also had segmented levels, as well, Shanoa from it was what changed Lira from being a boy to a girl in development. Which in turn, made Bart like Albus from OoE too, a good friend and I gave him a pistol just like Albus uses. As well, Casltlevania games usually take place in Romania/Wallachia, so I based Necrolepsy in the Balkans area still, but it’s in Greece instead. Otherwise, in terms of level design and gameplay, it was structured to be faster like Mega Man X or Mega Man Zero. Outside of games, anime like G Gundam and Getter Robo also inspired it heavily. Lira herself is based off of Domon Kasshu and Ryoma Nagare from said respective series, but I toned her personality down to be more spunky like Lina Inverse from Slayers when I realized she was kind of a dick. Here’s a screenshot from Order of Ecclesia you can use as a comparison of maps:
What do you think Necrolopsy’s biggest strengths are? What about it’s weaknesses?
I think Necrolepsy’s biggest strengths is its gameplay, boss fights, content and overall tone. Some people I saw thought the game was edgy which made me laugh, so I made the game have a lot more goofy stuff like 90’s anime reactions for Lira and making enemies have much more cartoony reactions to things. It’s biggest weaknesses to me are the graphics and sound effects. The game’s a bit lacking in sound design and is something I want to fix in the future, but some background tiles look a little off and I wouldn’t mind adding a few things to make them more unique looking. But at the same time, the weaker aspects of the game are things I didn’t study (Programming and Game Design) so I’m not too shocked by that.
What are your personal rules to follow when designing a game? (Or what were they when designing Necrolepsy)
My personal rule is that a game should be fun, whether well designed or unintentionally. Boring games always die in mediocrity, but both terrible and amazing games live on for fame or infamy, and some can come back due to certain fandoms like crazy-combo games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta have Combo MADs, or speedrunners will speedrun kinda crappy games because they’re fun to do that with. A good example is Sonic R, I love that game to pieces even though it’s kind of crap, but It’s still really fun with how insane the speedrun tactics are for the game. Hell, I even did speedrun it, and I still have the World Record in that category: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOiMQ1XropI There are also a few other things I like to do like play with limitations. Necrolepsy by design was going to use 4 buttons only, but I had to expand that to 6 + 2 menu buttons as I played, but it worked out in the end because it lead to more complexity without deviating too far from what my goal was.
Any planned features that didn’t make it into the final game?
Yes, a lot of them actually. I was going to have a tiered Nightmare system that I had to cut because it would’ve meant I had to make four different palettes of every level, and I’m just one guy. It was also cut because i could only get Lira to a single tier of nightmare before I hit a checkpoint if i was being extremely liberal with my time, so it felt unnecessary. As well, I was going to have an item system like Castlevania, where you could pick and use items like health potions and coffee to keep lira awake. I got rid of it to make the game both harder and less annoying to access the true pause menu (because it was bound to the same key and I wanted to keep my limitation of 8 keys). There’s a few more I listed in the Dev Stories section of the extras, unlocked when you beat the game on Wake Me Up difficulty, lol. Going back to the button thing, originally, Dashing, Parrying and Sliding were all on the same button, called Special. Up and Special was parry, down and special was sliding, and dashing was just special. I split them into 2 buttons and made sliding Down + Jump and made going through platforms Down + Down so I could still slide on narrow platforms, lol. I really don’t like it when games don’t let you do that.
What’s your personal best score in the beach volleyball mode?
108 for the normal mode, 97 for the nightmare mode. Should play it more, I think I could eaaaaaasily get 200
What’s your favorite weapon or ability?
Oh Jeez, one of the last ones from the game. The Saw and Spear are both amazing, and Dashing is just way too helpful for traveling. It gave me whiplash when I was coding it but had to go back to an earlier level and I couldn’t do it. The Scimitar is also really damn good, but I love rolling weapons in general.
Do YOU or any of your loved ones suffer from Necrolepsy™?
Lol, no. Though I did get the idea of Necrolepsy™ because of a guy I went to Elementary to High School with who actually did have narcolepsy. The way he changed from being extremely athletic to more of a book worm was pretty crazy, and I thought of a way to make that much more worse for the actual curse of Necrolepsy™.