Time Enough At Last (To Play Video Games) – The End Is Nigh Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 02, 2018
Time Enough At Last (To Play Video Games) – The End Is Nigh Review

Difficulty and challenge have always been a major factor in determining people’s value of a game, although it might not necessarily seem like it. Flip through an old Nintendo Power, though, and you’ll likely notice “challenge” as one of the cut-and-dry ratings values that writers assessed games by. That might seem like a relic of a time when difficulty was a major contributor to the perceived value that folks got out of a game, but if we fast forward to nowadays, the idea of “Nintendo hard” is still in our lexicon and a major reason why legitimate and fair, yet often crushing difficulty is a huge part of the infatuation with games like Cuphead, Don’t Starve, and, of course, Dark Souls.

What we’ve grown into, though, whether we realize it or not, is that difficulty in games can take a number of different forms that somewhat transcend simple genre classifications, creating a sort of “pick your poison” approach to challenging ourselves with the games we play. For example, I really want to be a Dark Souls fan, because I love its enemy and boss design, its loot system, and its commitment to its combat system, but my patience is lacking when it comes to the Sisyphean punishment that follows each failure, being forced to regain not only ground covered but even my own equipment as well before another chance to progress.

Instead, my ideal concept of difficulty in a game is, essentially, anything put out by Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac), including his latest project, The End is Nigh. Much like its meaty predecessor, The End is Nigh is a student of what I’ve come to think as “quantity over quality” death in games, wherein dying is a trial-and-error learning process that can be entered into without some kind of great fear of what will happen if you fail (Rayman Legends is another stellar example of this phenomenon). At its core, The End Is Nigh is a bare-bones platformer with simplistic visuals, simplistic controls, and, at any given moment, a simplistic goal for the player to accomplish: get to the next screen, an act which is hindered by what can only be described as sadistically difficult level design. Each level is its own learning experience wherein the player must fine-tune their performance in timing, jumping, and risk-taking to conquer the current set of maybe two or three obstacles (spikes, pits, enemies, the usual), dying anywhere between 15 and 50 or more times in the process.

Given the setting, too, it’s actually fairly poignant for your character, Ash, to be more or less meant to die hundreds of times over the course of the game just to get what he’s looking for. The End Is Nigh is set in a drab, monotone post-apocalyptic world inhabited by ghosts, skeletons, monsters, and Ash. Just blobby little one-eyed Ash, nobody else. So his quest that leads him through so many treacherous and intimidating locales isn’t about saving the world (the world’s already dead, and so is everyone else), it’s just about making a friend to spend some time with, and running around, getting all the pieces together to do so — and maybe some more game cartridges along the way, since his favorite one just broke. It’s an utterly nihilistic and yet relatable motivation, with Ash out to cure his own boredom or die trying, fitting in with the dark humor that persists in McMillen’s other titles.

That dark humor is also one of my favorite, more intangible things about The End Is Nigh. I found myself really wishing that there had been room or time or whatever hindrance there was to include more cutscenes like the one that opens the game, as Ash attempts to make a Let’s Play video for no one in particular, only to see his favorite game (also titled “The End Is Nigh”) go up in smoke, prompting him to set out on his quest. Amusing little easter eggs and jokes are scattered amongst landmarks such as corpses lying on the ground that simply comment “we are fucked, dude,” or from tongue-in-cheek NES references like “Morbid Gear” or “River City Rancid” from collectible game cartridges scattered throughout the main levels (which double as playable sets of challenge levels on Ash’s home console).

And, of course, being a Nicalis-published Switch release, the physical copy on the Switch comes with a gorgeous manual, including an interview with McMillen on the game’s design that really ups the coolness factor, as well as a tiny rubber Ash figure that, though adorable, is probably best kept in its plastic and in the game’s case so as to not attract obscene amounts of dust that will likely never wash off. But at $30 physical for another great offering of an incredibly unique and amusing title, it’s as good of a release as Nicalis has put out so far. Although not as replayable or random as The Binding of Isaac or as iconic and fresh as Super Meat Boy, The End Is Nigh is another resounding success for Edmund McMillen, Nicalis, and gamers looking for that addicting sense of challenge and original artistic integrity that AAA titles rarely offer in such a strong combination. Although fairly short and one-note, it’s a powerful note that offers longevity for completionists who want to collect every tumor in sight (I told you it was dark) or even just enough charm to last through the main levels and start to feel something for a little, blackened ball of humanity called Ash.

This post was written by
He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can't really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he's also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.
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