NecroBoy: Path to Evilship Review
Contributed by DJMMT
When you think of games to play for Halloween today, it’s often horror titles like the upcoming The Callisto Protocol or classics like Dead Space. But there was a time when Halloween didn’t have to mean scary. There’s a long tradition of Halloween equating to kooky and fun as opposed to just fear inducing. Think of things like The Addams Family and The Nightmare Before Christmas. When I think of Halloween games, I don’t just like to play titles from The Dark Pictures Anthology or the incomparable Alien: Isolation. I also like to play silly games like MediEvil and Luigi’s Mansion. So, I was really happy to be asked to review a game like NecroBoy Path to Evilship, which literally releases on Halloween (today/tomorrow depending on your time zone) this year.
NecroBoy Path to Evilship (NecroBoy) is a third person puzzle game developed by the solo French developer Chillin’ Wolf. What I really liked about the game is that it’s a story-based puzzle adventure that has some tricky puzzles but doesn’t ask too much from the player overall. It’s the perfect game to play during the week of Halloween but won’t require you to commit for several hours in order to finish it. While I would say it’s probably a little too difficult for young kids to play on their own, the art style and simple controls make it a great option for people to play alongside young children for the holiday.
The game isn’t huge on production value, but it does what it needs to do visually. The graphics have a silly feel to them that’s reminiscent of games from the PS1 era, but at a much more modern level of quality. NecroBoy doesn’t even have limbs. He has floating hands and feet like Rayman. There are some jarring inconsistencies in the art style, when it comes to comparing different aspects of the game. The text-based dialog scenes look entirely different from the gameplay. In the same vein, the menus have a very Photoshop feel to them. You can definitely tell the game was made on a low budget, but that in no way detracted from my experience of playing it, as the non-combat, casual puzzle nature of the game doesn’t require 60 FPS or 4K resolution. I could easily see this game working well portably on the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck.
The game ran very smoothly on the basic work laptop I played it on. That’s actually one of the things about NecroBoy I really liked. I was able to play it at work on my lunch break very casually. I used a controller, but the casual nature of the gameplay allows for easy use with a keyboard + mouse as well. I have to say that while there is some music and sound effects, they’re not particularly amazing. It’s pretty much the bare minimum. Which for me is another reason that it was great to play at work. The entire story is told through text, and playing without sound doesn’t do much to detract from the experience. Even if I wasn’t playing it at work, I probably would have listened to music or a podcast while playing it.
While the writing is not particularly amazing, I appreciated it for what it is. This is a story-based puzzle game that’s actively trying to be silly and not take itself seriously. It follows the story of a boy with necromancy powers that wants to find an ancient artifact so he can take over the world to get revenge for being abandoned as a child. The bulk of the dialog is the boy talking to either himself or spirits he has brought back to life. Ultimately, the spirits end up being therapists rather than minions. It’s a ridiculous story that goes great with both the aesthetic and the gameplay. I will also commend the writer for making some funny observational humor within the world of the game along the way.
The gameplay in NecroBoy is very traditional 3D puzzle solving. The major mechanic of the game is built around your inability to do anything for yourself, which is mentioned in the narrative. The way you get past obstacles is by summoning dead spirits and commanding them to do the work for you. Every action required to solve the puzzles must be done by spirits you resurrect. There are eight types of spirits you can find and bring back from the dead. It’s important to note that these spirits are specific to their individual levels. You do not get to find and collect them like Pokémon. Your goal for each level is to find the spirits there and use them to solve the puzzles in that level. Once you exit the level, you lose all your spirits and must find more in the next level. Each spirit has its own uses and limitations. Basic minions do most of the manual labor like pushing boxes and hitting switches. Werewolves fight enemies.
As you progress through the game, you encounter other types of spirits to help you solve harder, more complicated puzzles. While some of the puzzles are trickier than others, the game mostly follows a pretty balanced system of difficulty progression. The skills you learn in one puzzle tend to be useful for the puzzles after it, with your collection of puzzle solving techniques growing organically as you move forward. This allows the game to be challenging, but rarely feels unfair. That being said, the tutorials are very sparse. You get a bit of dialog and sketches explaining how to do commands, like resurrecting and hibernating (temporarily re-killing?) spirits. But the game doesn’t really help you to understand how to implement these skills into actual puzzle solving. You just have to figure things out on your own. There’s no hint system either. Which is by no means a deal breaker for this genre, but I can see some people getting stuck and having no clue how to move forward.
One of the things I find interesting about the gameplay is that it makes sense but is not intuitive. You have to train yourself to think the way these puzzles and commands work in order to play successfully. This is specifically because of NecroBoy’s reliance on spirits to do even the most basic things. For instance, you can be standing next to a switch that needs to be opened and have your spirit locked away on the other side of a gate. Logically you think to yourself that you should just be able to hit the switch yourself. However, you can’t do that. You have to figure out how to get the spirit to the other side of the gate without using the switch that you’re standing right next to. Once you start to understand how the game really works, this stops being a problem. But it does require you to change your mindset.
While the game played smoothly overall, for the purposes of transparency, I have to admit that I encountered a game breaking bug on stage 14 of the 35 currently available stages. This bug made the game literally unplayable. To the developer’s credit, I was able to contact him via email and he had the bug fixed and the game patched on Steam that same day. So that bug is no longer there.
The game isn’t very long. I got through the first 14 stages, before hitting the bug, in about 70 minutes. Depending on how much you struggle with some of the puzzles, you can probably beat the whole thing in 3 – 4 hours. There are also some hidden secrets, but I didn’t manage to find any of them. That didn’t prevent me from reaching the end of the game in any way though. It’s hard to quantify replay value in a puzzle game like this, as I don’t really see any reason you’d play through it a second time. Especially if you do manage to find the secrets in your first playthrough. There are only 13 achievements, some of which are extremely easy to obtain. For example, there’s a special Halloween variant costume to celebrate the holiday release date. It’s automatically available in the menu. You get an achievement just for putting it on once. So it’s really difficult for me to say you’re going to get more than a handful of hours out of this game.
Overall, I enjoyed NecroBoy Path to Evilship. I would be lying if I said it was a game that I would have gone out of my way to buy. It’s fun and plays well for the most part. But it does feel like an Epic Games Store freebie more than an indie darling. I’m glad to have been able to play it at work, but I can’t see it as something that I would have let take time from my backlog during non-work hours. It’s a solid puzzle game with a limited amount of memorability. Which is why if you are interested you should take advantage of the 20% discount being offered this week on Steam. If I have to put a score on it, I’d give it a 6/10.