The Nightmare Cooperative
When a small village experiences a bit of a financial crisis thanks to the frivolous spending of its Council, it falls upon the local heroes to go questing for cash. Fortunately, there are plenty of dungeons filled with ample amounts of gold, but unfortunately the resident monsters are not too keen on handing over the shiny stuff. The result is a strategic rogue-like title where you quest for gold, glory and most importantly, survival.
The Nightmare Cooperative is not your typical dungeon crawler, but then again, I didn’t expect any less from Lucky Frame, whose previous titles include quirky titles such as Gentlemen! and Bad Hotel. The game is viewed from an overhead perspective and each dungeon floor is only about half a screen wide, with the rest dedicated to the character portraits and other information. All you have to do is grab the gold that is either on the floor or in chests, kill or avoid the enemies in your way and make it to the exit alive. With the relatively small levels this sounds much easier than it really is thanks to one interesting twist.
You start the game with two characters, chosen at random from the available classes and have to control both of them at the same time. During your quest you can find and recruit two additional characters for a maximum party of four. However, when I say you control the characters at the same time I mean it literally. Every button press you make influences everyone in your party. This means that if you move right to attack an enemy that is threatening your ninja, you might inadvertently push your mage into an acid pit and impale your warrior on some floor spikes.
Movement is tile based and characters cannot occupy the same tile so you can forget about marching them to the exit in synch. Instead you have to plan ahead very carefully to avoid the many traps and strategically take down the enemies that are blocking the exit.
Since the whole point of the quest is collecting cold you might want to grab some along the way, but even this comes with a penalty. Each gold chest you open spawns more enemies, with the number on top of the chest indicating the amount. Since levels are already so cramped this can be quite risky, but as long as at least one of your characters make it to the exit you will advance to the next level. You’ll find health and action potions scattered about and dead heroes can be replaced with new recruits on some levels, but if everyone dies the game ends in true rogue-like fashion.
To give you more of a fighting chance against the enemies, each hero has their own special ability. For example, the warrior hits twice, the mage can perform a diagonal attack, the barbarian knocks monsters away and the priest can heal someone next to him. The bad news is that these special moves require blue action potions to use and if triggered all heroes on the level will perform their move. This can be a double-edged sword as triggering the healing ability of the priest might also cause your ninja to jump into a bad spot or waste the arrow of your archer that you wanted to save for an emergency. Overall, the special moves and the way that they are triggered as a group add a whole new strategic layer to the game.
Playing the game is as simple as can be as you only use the arrow keys and space-bar. This doesn’t mean that the game is easy though, far from it. Due to the permadeath you will have to restart from scratch each time everyone dies and you retain nothing from your previous runs. The levels are grouped into four themes, with four floors each and due to the random generation of these you can run into some very sticky situations. Collecting health and action potions can help your characters and there are some items to be found which grand special protection, but with no experience points, skill trees or character progression you will have to rely on your wits to survive. There aren’t a whole lot of enemies, but this makes it easier to learn their patterns and adapt your tactics. Some enemies wander aimlessly, while others mimic your moves or guard the gold. There are also enemies that can swap places with your character if they have them in their line of sight as well as ones that shoots in different directions. All these patterns and the fact that movement is tile based, with enemies only moving when you move can make levels feel like a game of chess at times. Just making a rush for the exit is a sure-fire way to get your characters killed, so it is better to take things slowly and carefully plan each move.
The visual style of The Nightmare Cooperative is not quite what one would expect from a rogue-like title, but it is quite nice nonetheless. Instead of dark, gloomy environments or retro pixel art the game features crisp visuals with straight lines and sharp edges. The audio is also quite unique and while the tunes didn’t exactly stick in my head after playing they do match the game quite well.
The Nightmare Cooperative might not have all the features and extras of more recent entries in the genre, but this means the game is ideal to play in quick bursts. There is no story to get in the way of the action and no complex menus to bog down your progress. Games can be won or lost in a matter of minutes, but it is the lure of the Leaderboards that will keep you coming back for more. Initially you might aim only to finish the game, but upon doing so and unlocking all the new characters you’ll go back and aim for higher scores.
Due to the difficulty level The Nightmare Cooperative can be a frustrating game, but I always found myself going back for more no matter how unfair things got. I have to admit that after dying very quickly during my first few tries I didn’t think that the game would be able to hook me, but this changed each time I progressed a little further. Eventually completing the game was immensely satisfying, as was going through it again with the new characters.
If you enjoy rogue-like titles, but want something that breaks down the genre into its most basic elements you will enjoy The Nightmare Cooperative. It’s not the biggest or flashiest game in the genre, but it has a lot of heart and packs a mean challenge.