Lots of games have assorted depictions of the afterlife. These are often nightmarish, hell-like landscapes which invoke all the imagery of the best horror movies and novels. Once in a while, however, we get a game with a completely new tack on an old trope, with Necrosphere being perhaps the most prominent example in recent years. It’s an indie Metroidvania platformer with pixel graphics and a retro mindset. Many titles recently have taken a similar approach, so can this litt find its own footing in a crowd of like-minded ideas?
The game has players piloting the tiny little avatar of an agent named Terry Cooper who has tragically died on the job. He soon finds himself in the afterlife, but it’s neither the Pearly Gates nor the Lake Of Fire. Instead, this realm of the dead is called the Necrosphere, and is a series of complicated traps which the departed have to traverse. Dying in this plane of existence simply causes you to respawn indefinitely, though it is possible to escape with a portal that leads back to the mortal realm. With this in mind, our hero resolves to find a way out of the afterlife itself, even if it means he has to die a million times to do it.
Grim-reap what you sow.
The most interesting mechanic of the game is its reliance on an ultra-simplified control scheme. It proudly boasts that it’s a two-button affair. Indeed, its played in its entirely with just the left and right keys. There is no jump function, at least not initially, and this feels surprisingly natural despite making many sections a lot tougher. The first levels ease the player into the rhythm, offering up a ton of hazards that can be tackled with simple right-or-left keystrokes and precise movement.
Fortunately, our intrepid agent picks up a few other skills along his journey back to the land of the living, thanks to the efforts of his fellow agents who are also stuck on the wrong side of the hereafter. Players will be able to eventually smash blocks and enemies, dash, and even make use of a jetpack. All of these skills and upgrades make traversing the Necrosphere much easier, but also afford you the chance to backtrack and discover previously unreachable routes. And backtrack you will. A lot.
Until the very end of me, until the very end of you.
This is a tough little gem, and it makes no pretense of being anything short of frustrating. Nonetheless, in the scheme of things, its difficulty never reaches levels previously obtained by games such as Super Meat Boy. Also taking a page from Team Meat’s classic seminal platformer, Necrosphere does away with a lives system completely, which goes a long way to dulling the more rage-enducing moments on offer. It’s also not terribly long, despite the backtracking and Metroidvania mechanics, but the balance between difficulty and game length help to keep the experience reasonably fulfilling. There’s also a side-quest to tackle if you’re feeling like a completionist, and a number of achievements, unlockables, and even collectables in the form of DVDs help to round off the experience and add some replay value. There’s a special, hidden item that makes players immune to spikes, and is of particular interest to obtain because many hidden passages and shortcuts will suddenly be opened.
Necrosphere is a thoroughly retro-inspired outing, though it doesn’t seek to emulate the old NES with a high degree of accuracy. Graphics are pixelated, but at a larger block size and a wider screen ratio. The palette is also more varied and vibrant than anything found on antiquated hardware. It is a modern interpretation of old-style goodness, and is rather endearing in its blocky glory. The audio is likewise a slightly more artistic take on an 8-bit sound bank, and will be an utter treat for all the chip enthusiasts out there.
Necrosphere is a pleasant little retro-style Metroidvania that’s great for bite-size chunks of gameplay during your coffee breaks. It’s difficult, though not the most difficult outing ever, and it’s absolutely charming with its blocky pixel aesthetic and 8-bit sound effects. If you fancy yourself a devotee of NES-inspired games, then you seriously need to add this to your library, like, immediately. Bounce your way on over here to see what you’ll be getting yourself into.
Oh, and the developer has added an extra incentive to buy and beat the game. There’s a special-made Necrosphere controller up for grabs for whoever can finish the game in the quickest time. Check out the competition’s details here and learn about how you can enter.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Mac, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Cat Nigiri ; Developer: Cat Nigiri ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 1st of September, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a Steam key for Necrosphere given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.