A hardcore, precision platformer where you can’t jump, what could go wrong? Necrosphere Deluxe is a 2D puzzle-platform game with some Metroidvania level progression and a pixel art aesthetic. Oh, and you can’t jump and the only controls are movement left and right, an admirable design choice that doesn’t quite pay off in the long run.
You play as Agent Terry Cooper, a detective shot down in action, who finds himself transported to the afterlife or the Necrosphere. His partners in the living world (the Normalsphere) contact him and tell him about special portals that will be able to get him home and also provide him some useful items to help him traverse the Necrosphere and avoid its many dangers.
Necrosphere Deluxe, in both gameplay and graphics, could not be simpler. The game controls with just two buttons, one to go left, one to go right. There is no jump or action command. The main items to help you progress are bubbles strategically placed throughout the levels. Run into them and Terry will bounce in the air. This acts as the games “jump” mechanic. As you progress you will need to chain jumps together between bubbles, an act made more difficult when you discover some pop on contact, so you have to time those jumps very carefully. There are also anti-gravity walls and rising and lowering platforms to help with your vertical needs.
Necrosphere Deluxe also introduces some light Metroidvania elements too. As you delve deeper into the bowls of the afterlife you will acquire some permanent upgrades. There’s a pink tutu that lets you bound over gaps, a pair of gloves that smash through rocks and kill the zombies that you previously had to run from and a rocket pack that gives you vertical lift. These are usually followed by a fake portal that teleports you back to the start of the game so you can use your new items to open previously inaccessible paths and progress further into the Necrosphere.
The introduction of the upgrade items is a double-edged sword however creating new gameplay elements but also exposing the flaw of the games simple control scheme. Despite these item doing very different actions, they are all still activated with the same two basic buttons, double tapping left or right for the horizontal jump and punch and holding both buttons to activate the jetpack. Doesn’t sound too hard but when you are trying to string all these actions together it’s frustratingly easy to do the wrong move. The number of times I just walked into a pit of spikes when I meant to jump over the pit was many. One more button input would have fixed this and made the game significantly more enjoyable. I know games like this are suppose to be hard but there’s a big difference between an error caused by your inexperience and one caused by a poor control scheme.
Speaking of the difficulty, the game does spike quite quickly and despite its simple appearance is not for the easily frustrated. Necrosphere Deluxe is much more Super Meat Boy than Super Mario Bros. and luckily, much like Team Meats classic, Necrosphere Deluxe does include a lot of generous save points that you pop back to immediately after death. Most of these will put you back to the last platform you were on but some drop you back to the start of a very complicated jump combination, the latter of which can be a problem at times as the level design is not always as tight as it needs to be for this kind of platformer. There were a couple of times I was convinced I needed to find a power up to proceed as the jump combination was laid out in such a way that it seemed impossible to proceed, even with numerous attempts.
In the graphics and music department, Necrosphere Deluxe does a great job of emulation the 8-bit era of gaming, with the simple graphics allowing the game to move at a fast pace and adding some needed humour to complicate the games bleak setting and sadistic gameplay. One thing I wish we saw more of was the lovely opening cutscene pixel art used to set up the story. The music is also a nostalgic treat with its chiptune soundtrack doing a great job of setting atmosphere throughout the game.
This being the deluxe version of Necrosphere you also get some extras. Scattered throughout the are hidden DVD’s and once five are discovered you will unlock the ultra hard bonus mission. This ramps up the difficulty and removes the checkpoints, just in case you still have some hairs left that the main game hasn’t made you pull out.
Necrosphere Deluxe, despite making me want to smash my Switch on the floor, is a game that’s hard not to like. Its charming graphics and humour and simple controls are a great hook, it just needs some tinkering with the level design and maybe a revamped control scheme to deal with the extra elements later in the game. Maybe a sequel could give us that. However, it’s hard not to recommend it to fans of hardcore platform action, especially at the low price it’s at. If nothing else it’s made appreciate a good pink tutu.