Let me preface this by saying, Necrosphere is a difficult game. This 16-bit Metroidvania-style title by developer Cat Nigiri is an expertly crafted 2D platformer that is challenging to even the most proficient platforming gamers. The game shares similarity to other remarkably difficult platformers like VVVVV and Super Meat Boy, while also offering interesting and unique gameplay mechanics. Now, I tend to take the “very hard” phrase labelled on most of these types of games with a grain of salt, but this game did live up to its promise of having intense difficulty. I died 100s of times in my initial playthrough, and in the second playthrough I died over 100 times again. The game is what you’d expect from a Metroidvania, while also throwing new and interesting ideas that makes it a joy to play through.
Fireballs of Death!
The game’s story is short in length yet rather convoluted. Secret Agent Terry Cooper is killed in an ambush by an unknown enemy and is sent to the afterlife known as the Necrosphere. The Necrosphere allows people to return to life on Earth if they are to make the arduous journey to the Earth portal. The initial story tidbits give Terry’s journey through the Necrosphere meaning, with the player assuming control right after the 30-second introduction. The rest of the game’s story is littered throughout the Necrosphere in the form of notes, which can be avoided if clarification via story isn’t your cup of tea. The notes indicate that Terry’s fellow agents Tara and Markus survived the ambush, and offer Terry help by throwing handy items into the Necrosphere, those items being the game’s upgrades. The notes scattered provide further information on the Necrosphere, allowing for further overall understanding of the situation. Necrosphere’s story isn’t overly important, as its minimalist approach explains what it needs to, and then quickly takes a backseat, allowing players to explore the Necrosphere at their leisure in order to reach the end portal.
Necrosphere’s gameplay is great, with the main aim being to explore the game’s environments and collect power ups that allow you to access previously unreachable areas. It’s what you expect from a Metroidvania, and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the few things that separate Necrosphere from many other games in a similar vein is the lack of a dedicated jump button. Upon the opening of the game, Necrosphere betrays the player’s expectations of a Metroidvania. Gone is the jump button you held dearly, as you are offered only two buttons, one to move left and the other to move right. Upon launching the game, I tried to jump, tried to attack, but to no avail, the game only offered me two buttons to move and that was it. Instead, the world is full of gravity bubbles, a bubble that when walked into, propels Terry into the air. The gravity bubbles make for satisfying yet difficult platforming segments, and they are an interesting alternative to the traditional gameplay of most other platforming games.
The game also has a couple of upgrade items to make the journey through the Necrosphere a little less painful. The ballet suit allows Terry to side dash, making previously impossible platforming segments achievable as well as being a handy way to propel horizontally through the air. The gauntlets allow for rocks to be smashed, as well as making it possible to kill enemies. The Jetpack makes for easier traversal through previous environments, while also being the main item used in the final segment before the game’s conclusion. There is even an item that makes spikes (the cause of 100s of deaths previously) absolutely harmless, and all this combines to make backtracking through the game’s most difficult segments possible. The Necrosphere has very few upgrades, but each one is executed well and compliments the next.
Gravity Bubbles Provide Unique Platforming Segments
Necrosphere’s puzzling yet intriguing control scheme is both an interesting and frustrating design choice. The two-button control scheme seemed simple enough at the start, but as each area provided me with a new ability, I found it increasingly difficult to control the game with the precision I felt I had prior. Deaths which were previously all my fault were being overpowered by constant deaths that the controls were to blame for. Moving left/right, hovering with a jet-pack and air dashing side to side all in a singular motion just doesn’t work well with two buttons. I’m not 100% sure if the exclusive two buttons the whole game was meant to be a feature of the game’s difficulty, but it did dampen some particular sections of the game.
The game’s music, much like most 16-bit games, is amazingly catchy and is a pleasure to listen to while traversing through the Necrosphere. Songs vary from upbeat and energetic to mysterious and hypnotic. My favourite track is the song in the purple world titled Life and Death. The song sports a dulcet and mysterious tone, with interesting dialogue in the background discussing what life can learn from death. The dialogue present in the song is actually quotes from deceased mystic and author by the name of Terence McKenna, an individual who was a believer in the benefits of psychadelics. Now, this is a plot point that 99% of Necrosphere’s players would disregard, but I find this song and its accompanying dialogue making me question just what exactly the Necrosphere is. Is it a psychedelic experience where the brain comes to learn of what death truly is? Or am I just looking too deeply into this? Probably the latter, but I digress.
The Jetpack Makes Traversal A Lot Easier
Despite loving my time with Necrosphere, I did have a few major issues with some of the game’s design choices. Obviously my biggest gripe was the aforementioned two-button control scheme, but the game, despite being perfectly fine to backtrack once having all upgrades, was very difficult to traverse when having only a few upgrades. I constantly found myself entering areas that I had already completed and because I didn’t have the essential upgrades required, I had to play through segments again and again for no reward other than the fact that I was free to try and find the area I was meant to explore. This was an issue that frustrated me on numerous occasions and it did ultimately make me question the game’s design and flow in the earlier stages. Upon the acquisition of the jetpack and the anti-spike shoes this issue becomes obsolete, but it still hampered my enjoyment somewhat. Another issue I had found was the lack of any sort of in-game map. Maps are crucial in Metroidvania-style games, and the lack of direction was even further strengthened by the fact that I sometimes had no idea where I was going. Necrosphere is a great time don’t get me wrong, but some design choices make the game a lot less exciting to explore.
Necrosphere overall offers a great challenge for fans of difficult games, as well as fans of the Metriodvania genre in general. The game’s controls, despite being ambitious, can be overly frustrating and lead to some minor disdain towards the game. Backtracking is a bit of an issue early on, but as you gather more upgrades, the issues with returning to previous worlds disappear. Necrosphere (despite some hiccups) is an absolute joy to play, with the completion of each difficult section making you feel like more and more of a platforming badass. Necrosphere is a great experience, and one that fans of difficult platformers should not miss. Necrosphere is only available for PC at the moment, but PS4, PS Vita and Xbox One versions are slated for fall 2017.
Reviewed on PC