After departing from co-founded development studio fittingly named Team Meat, Edmund McMillen went on to find success with the critically acclaimed The Binding of Isaac. However, it was only going to be a matter of time until he would go back to his precision platforming roots that he is more famously known for. Despite no longer being connected with the sequel to his other legendary indie creation Super Meat Boy, McMillen has brought it on himself to conjure something new, yet familiar with fellow developer and newgrounds.com veteran, Tyler Glaiel. The result is in the form of The End Is Nigh, and, as you would expect, it’s tough, grotesque, and stressfully fun.
Set during a grim, dystopian apocalypse we find our lonely protagonist commentating like a Twitch broadcaster while playing the only game that he owns. To his dismay, the game suddenly crashes and no longer works, leading to a tirade of profanity coming from the inky blob, in reaction to his only source of companionship having now failed him. As a result, he decides to venture outside into the dangers of the world, to quite literally make himself a friend.
For those unfamiliar, The End Is Nigh is very simple in its premise – all you have to do is get from one screen to the other. Of course, that’s easier said than done due to its brutal yet expertly tuned level design. What helps make its unforgiving nature fair though, is by how perfectly implemented the controls are. They feel so precise, it’s almost as if they are hard-wired to your nervous system. Sure, you will die, you will even get angry, but at no point can you blame the game design for your failure.
Although each level is usually numbered in sequence for each area, the whole environment itself is completely connected to one another. You can warp to previous areas that you have explored, as long as the destination is marked on your map. The only problem with this, however, is that you start from the beginning of each section rather than directly warping to the level screen that you want to. This can make finding your collectables a bit more of a hindrance, especially if the one you are hunting for happens to be in the later levels of that certain area.
Speaking of collectables, the apocalypse is filled to the brim with secrets. Every level has a tumour to snatch, which can open up special stages if enough of them are obtained. There’s even a bunch of game cartridges to rummage for, each with their own platforming conundrums set out in a retro 8-bit style, complete with CRT scanlines and all.
It’s in what the collectables offer that differentiates the difficulty of this game. Each secret area is usually an even harder implementation of the already tough standard level layout. This enables the more highly driven player to venture toward a much bigger challenge and works as a clever way to raise the ante. After all, if you are not skilled enough to reach the bonus areas, you’re probably not going to be skilled enough to complete them either.
The End Is Nigh stays simple and clean with its silhouette-like visuals. The whole thing manages to look bleak and depressing, yet stays attractive to the eye with its various balance of chromatic and achromatic colours. There’s certainly a bit of a LIMBO feel to it all, which does suit its nightmarish vibe and dark sense of humour. The music is also fantastic. Each track is a remixed take on a classical masterpiece from the 18th and 19th century. Just listening to the guitars shredding as it leads up to the Hellish chants of Verdi’s Requiem really nails the tone of the game, as does the 8-bit bounce of Mozart’s Turkish March. Everything all works so wonderfully well together, with no frame-drops or obvious bugs in sight.
Of course, this game won’t suit everyone’s taste. Its Rabelaisian humour may not bode well for some and its high difficulty may prove too challenging for others. However, I do happen to be a bit of a sucker for both and cannot resist a good punishing as long as it doesn’t feel too cheap. To cheapen the difficulty in a game too much can expose bad design for the sake of a challenge. This is what I applaud most of all with The End Is Nigh. You can see clearly that every level has been carefully tailored around the control system even though you will fail thousands of times. It knows how to keep the addiction surfaced, especially with the convenient instant restarts with each demise.
The End Is Nigh is a simple but brilliant platformer. It doesn’t want to be your friend and it doesn’t care if it offends you. However, its tough love will certainly draw out your platforming potential if given a little perseverance. Everything looks and plays great regardless of your screen preference and with so many secrets to uncover it’s also excellent value for money. Just bear in mind that The End Is Nigh is probably not one for the kiddies…