Necrosphere Review: A Frustrating Two-Step

Developed By: Cat Nigiri

Published By: Cat Nigiri

Release Date: August 31

Platforms: PC [reviewed]

Price: $5


Necrosphere may well be the hardest game I’ve ever played; this isn’t necessarily a compliment. Billed as a ‘full-blown adventure with only two buttons’, the game prides itself on a simplistic approach that is ostensibly supported by clever level design and varied gameplay. While it succeeds in some respects on these accounts, I mostly found the game trying too hard to stick to its ‘two-button’ gimmick at the expense of fine control and simplicity.

The game starts out innocently enough. Killed in battle, an agent of some sort of FBI-esque organization is sent to the Necrosphere, an underworld in which one cannot die again. Despite this, his former teammates seem capable of contacting him, dropping helpful supplies like bouncing bubbles and a ballet suit that allows him to perform a small dash. It’s a playful concept with occasionally dark notes, and despite the general lack of a story I did enjoy the setting itself. There’s a silliness to it that contrasts the inherently grim concept of being dead.

The first hour and a half or so [about half the game] of Necrosphere is a blast. For that duration, what the game promises is what it delivers: using only the left and right directional buttons, you have to navigate increasingly strenuous platforming challenges. Crossing gaps, using the bubbles to manage vertical jumps, and outrunning angry fireballs is a charming experience, and if the whole game managed to strike that balance of simplicity and challenge, I would very much have a different opinion of the game. The problem comes once new abilities start being added. The first, the aforementioned ballet suit, is a simple, useful upgrade. The second is a pair of gauntlets that allow the player to break rocks by dashing through them, which complicates puzzles without making the controls awkward. The problem arises with the addition of the final ability: the jetpack.

Controlled by holding left and right at the same time, the jetpack allows the player to shoot straight up into the air by a modest distance. This by itself is not necessarily bad, though it is slightly clumsy, but later puzzles demand a combination of jetpacking and dashing while mid-air, sometimes through rocks, that became incredibly awkward. What had started as a simplistic, but interesting challenge became wrestling with the controller as much as the scenarios at hand. Add onto that the appearance of frustrating environmental challenges (primarily a very irritating chasing fireball) and the game becomes incredibly challenging in all the wrong ways, with strict execution windows made frustrating by controls that never quite work. Imagine, if you’re using a controller for example, having to hold both triggers to fly, then immediately double-tapping the right trigger to air-dash right, before resuming holding both triggers once more while double-taping the right one. Now do this five times in two seconds. That’s the endgame of Necrosphere.

If you’re looking for a short game that’s relentlessly difficult, Necrosphere might be for you, but I walked away from it feeling cheated. There’s good kinds of difficulty and bad kinds, and never feeling like the controls are quite doing what you tell them to do is the latter. There’s a clever concept here, one that shines through for the first half of the game, but like the protagonist once he’s gotten hold of his damnable jetpack, the best ideas fly just out of reach and then die to a ridiculous homing fireball.