Necrosphere squishes a Metroidvania into a palm-sized venue, and while it has some brilliant ideas, and offers up some fiendishly difficult challenges, it relies on an overarching structure that doesn’t suit the pace of its play.
The game sees you sprinting around pixel art levels, controlling a recently deceased special agent. You’re in the titular realm of the dead, and you need to find a portal back to the land of the living.
Unlike other mobile platformers, Necrosphere follows the less-is-more school of control scheme thought. You can press on either side of the screen to move in that direction, and to begin with, that’s all you’ve got.
As you progress, you’ll unlock moves that let you double-tap to jump and dash short distances, as well as power-ups that let you bypass obstacles that at first seem impossible. Not that the new skills make things much easier – Necrosphere is one of the cruellest platformers on the App Store right now. Even when you’ve got everything you need to complete a section, it’s far from guaranteed that you’re going to nail it on your first try. Or your thousandth.
This isn’t down to the simple controls – it’s down to the level design. Timing is key here, and if you’re not up to the challenge, you’re going to be putting Necrosphere down pretty swiftly, even though its checkpoint system rarely drops you more than a few steps back.
Bounce bubbles send you careening into spikes; walls of fire wave along the screen and tempt you to a flaming end. Everything here is either trying to kill you or put you in a position where death is inevitable. While these core mechanics are brilliantly implemented, the scope of the game is its ultimate undoing. It’s frustrating to get stuck on a section, but once you’ve completed it, you feel like you’ve moved forwards – and then the game sends you back to the same places, leaving you to get frustrated all over again.
The sharp edges of the gameplay aren’t complemented by the game’s structure, making the whole experience feel more like an experiment in advanced gaming annoyance than a series of challenges and successes. Even when you know where you’re supposed to go, getting there is an exercise in repetition, and you’re repeating sections you hoped you’d never see again.
When a single wrong turn can leave you having to traverse massive sections of the map just to get back to where you were, things can quickly get stodgy – you’re not just going to feel challenged, you’re going to feel beaten. The ‘a-ha!’ moments, where previously inaccessible areas are opened, end up feeling more like ‘oh no!’ moments, when you realise where you need to go to use your newly unlocked skills.
Necrosphere could have been a wonderful mobile platformer – strip away the Metroidvania trappings and the actual leaping around is slick and addictive – but the meanness of its design doesn’t let up for a second. In the end, the reward you’re offered for your frustrations, screams, and expletives doesn’t feel like it’s quite enough.
It’s incredible just how much Necrosphere manages to pull off with two buttons. The platforming here, when it’s at its best, is unbelievably good. You’re never struggling to remember complex combos or worried your fingers are in the wrong place, and on a mobile phone, that’s some accomplishment.
Necrosphere really nails its platforming, but the structure it adopts is just too mean.
Genre: Platformer / Metroidvania
Format: iOS (tested) / Switch / Steam
Developer: Doublethink Games
Publisher: Doublethink Games
Release: Out now