[Review] Nightmare Reaper is a Retrotastic FPS War on Dreams

Blazing Bit Games manages to stuff an awful lot into Nightmare Reaper. On the surface, it appears to be the latest in a growing procession of retro-inspired first-person shooters. Instead, it’s a delightfully bizarre fusion of that, a rogue-lite, mini-games, and looter shooter that goes to some interesting, if sometimes incoherent, places. After several years of development and Early Access, it’s ready to face its demons and the general public.

Players are put in the gown of a psychiatric hospital patient who suffers hellish nightmares. She has a unique way of handling them though, as they generate first-person shooter levels with enemies she can slay with all manner of weaponry. Every time she falls in her dreams, new ones are created, offering up different locales, enemies, and weapons each time. There’s a story behind the patient and her incarceration to unravel in between, but the meat and potatoes of Nightmare Reaper are in the blasting of demons, undead, unearthly beasts, and much more.

Each level is standard fare to begin with. Through corridors of various shades and textures, you fire away at whatever flavor of foe the game has deigned to throw your way. You collect the treats and treasures those enemies drop to help you upgrade your skills down the line, and you uncover secret loot within the levels. The procedurally-generated nature of the game means there’s no true pattern to get used to in any given level, so there’s a freshness to each run, but tempered by a little frustration when the roll of the virtual dice goes against you.

You need to find weapons in each level, and can only keep one of three at the end of them, with the other two at least giving you a small cash settlement as compensation. While there are the usual flavors of weaponry such as shotguns, knives, explosives, and the like, they come in a variety of tiers, so it makes exploration a worthwhile cause with the hope of finding a juicy Legendary weapon to carry through into the next nightmare gauntlet.

And searching for new weapons is especially great because the combat is pretty damn good. The visual feedback of the damage you do is very satisfying, and the sheer oomph of the better weapons can very much be felt as you funnel more and more into their power. The game boasts 80-odd weapon types with around 30 different enchantments, and any mix of these can show up during the first-person play. The biggest issue I had was deciding which fun gun to keep at the end of a stage.

Part of the fun comes from not knowing what combination of throwback shooter locales and enemies you’re going to blast through next. Nightmare Reaper is, for me at least, like a celebratory parade of my late 90s PC gaming favorites, and within the context of nightmares, the constant shift of levels that draw inspiration from the likes of Duke Nukem 3D, Powerslave, Quake, and Hexen remains surprisingly cohesive. At times it feels like floppy disks of every 90s shooter ever got melted down together and the fumes from the collective hulk of burning plastic and metal birthed this vivid hallucination. I mean that in the nicest way. As part of its dedication to throwback shooters, Nightmare Reaper is also delightfully gore-soaked, making the combat just that bit more pleasing.

The other parts of the rogue-lite aspect to Nightmare Reaper are more of a mixed bag to me, unfortunately. I really like the concept of turning skill trees into playable retro minigames (which are played in-game on retro consoles), and it certainly offers up a bit of a break from the endless shooting and looting, but they don’t always end up being enjoyable to go through, and sometimes actively get in the way of a good time by wasting your time for a pithy reward. I applaud the sentiment, but wish it had been reined in a little bit.

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Also, while I generally enjoyed the chop n’ change levels, some things didn’t mesh all that well and occasionally hindered the act of shooting with fudgy visual mashes. A rare problem, but I suppose it could just as easily be a lesser or greater problem for someone else given it’s procedurally-generated.

Nightmare Reaper is a highly enjoyable mash of retro things with a deliciously barbed edge. It doesn’t always hit the high notes of the old favorites it belts out, but you’ll sing along just the same.




Nightmare Reaper review code provided by the publisher.

Nightmare Reaper is out now on Steam.

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