Nadir: Grimdark Deck Builder Review (Switch eShop)
Traveling to hell has never looked better than in Nadir: A Grimdark Deck Builder. The stunning visuals are enough to keep you hooked, while the mechanics of the cards take a few seconds to learn but are a constant challenge. Nadir has many virtues, but technical flaws and some quirky design choices keep it from achieving greatness.
Nadir: Deckbuilder Grimdark will waste no time throwing you into the fray. In the tutorial, Joan of Arc fights three unholy creatures using card fights to make her way deeper back into the hellish city of Nadir. The mechanics is explained by the floating head of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps best known for his claim that “God is dead.”
The tutorial explains the basics of the game well, where the player draws cards with blue and red power. How much power you can play depends on the number of red or blue cards your opponent has drawn. You can always tell exactly how the enemy will react to your attacks, allowing you to properly plan your strategy.
However, it’s a roguelike, so don’t expect it to be easy. Even the common enemies you face can cause serious status ailments that stack on top of each other. While this can help you pull off some impressive combos depending on how you built your deck, more often than not your opponent will make you bleed, rust, and decay on your way to another bad run.
Unfortunately, the tutorial section explains very little what these status ailments do, and the controls don’t make it easy to test them. Since this is a port of the PC version of the game, you’ll need to try and navigate to the correct sickness status to get a rundown of what it does, which can be an issue with Joy-Con controllers. Other card abilities, such as Stealth, aren’t explained at all until you try to use them, which is an obscure decision in a game that requires you to bend the rules in your favor in order to survive. Just a little more attention to how the game presents this information would have made Nadir a lot more fun.
In between races, you can spend the collected resources to build your home base. You can expand your deck, increase the health you regenerate as you descend further into hell, or you can unlock different characters to play as. Each character plays a little differently, allowing you to choose how you’re going to fight the many demons you encounter.
You start as Joan of Arc who represents Pride and eventually unlock Vlad the Impaler as the embodiment of Lust and the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, the latter representing the sin of Greed for his attacks on natives in what is now Mexico in the 16th century. It’s an interesting choice to include real historical figures in this way, especially those known for their brutality. The serious impact of the actions of Cortes, for example, is still being felt in the world. On the other hand, he’s in Hell, so he’s unlikely to be celebrated for what he did.
In classic Dante’s Inferno fashion, you must fight your way through four circles of hell, each controlled by a different higher demon. The game’s opening splash screen shows a message from the developers saying that they are still working on balancing these fights, and this becomes painfully obvious when you reach the bottom of the circle and come face to face with the final boss. They have so much health and so many status ailments that it seems impossible. We know that roguelikes are supposed to be difficult, but it just gets frustrating after half a dozen playthroughs and still doesn’t feel close to winning.
Several technical errors popped up during our work with the game. All of the ones we encountered were minor, such as explaining the power of cards sometimes didn’t show up when you highlighted them, but they made Nadir feel incoherent, unpolished, and unfinished at this stage.
The one area where this game consistently excels is in visuals. If you’ve ever seen a metal album, you’re probably familiar with Nadir’s art style. It feels like a Guns N’ Roses or Iron Maiden album cover comes alive, and we mean it in the most complimentary way; the crudest mixture of life and death, as shown in the fat folders at your local tattoo parlor. There are touches like thick outlines and loose use of shading that seemed very Hellboy us.
Nadir looks best in docked mode, where the visuals can shine on the big screen. The cover still looks good in tablet mode, but some of the text becomes too small to be seen clearly. Especially in the store that pops up from time to time during runs, we had to squint hard to see what we had to buy. Touches like these reinforce the feeling that this was a hasty port to the Switch from PC, rather than something the Switch had considered from the very beginning of development.
At launch, Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder is hard to recommend for its gameplay merits. The steep difficulty curve is more frustrating than challenging, and the lack of information about some of the mechanics is just confusing. If the developers released an art book with these character designs, we would be thrilled. However, playing around it feels almost like an afterthought, resulting in an inconsistent and frustrating experience, but one with potential.
Nadir: Grimdark Deckbuilder excels at a visually beautiful experience, but the play around those gorgeous metallic images doesn’t feel as thorough as the art design. It’s terribly difficult, and that fact is exacerbated by the inconsistent presentation of information and issues surrounding how the game’s controls were ported to the Switch. This is a game that feels unfinished despite the visual flair it offers.