It’s somewhat unfortunate foreshadowing that Black Eye Games and Team Nadir chose to name their game Nadir. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a nadir “The lowest or most unsuccessful point in any situation”. Well, it’s not far off…
Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder is a very stylised roguelike deckbuilder, based around the city of Nadir in the bowels of Hell. Your mission, as one of a group of interchangeable and unrelated characters, is to descend through the rings of Hell to reach and defeat a boss using the card-based powers you earn from beating its lower-ranked denizens.
So far, it’s all pretty par for the course — Dante meets tattoo parlour. What makes Nadir stand out, however, is that each of the cards in your arsenal is split in two halves: red and blue. As you play, you attack the enemies by targeting either the blue or red cards in their hand with the corresponding half of a card in yours.
Target a card enough times and you will trigger its attack, allowing for genuinely tactical gameplay strategies. You’ll want to plan around taking status damage, like Bleeding, which damages you every turn, or Counter, which allows the enemy to counterattack your next move.
If you don’t want to attack any of the cards for fear of the crackback, you can shuffle both your own and your enemy’s hands away for a set of new cards, and a minor penalty which changes based on the enemy.
Once you beat an enemy, you can craft a card (presumably) from their remains and add it to the deck, and descend to a deeper circle of Hell.
While this all makes for an interesting set of mechanics, it’s ultimately let down by a massively underwhelming experience.
There are three characters you can choose from, starting with Jeanne d’Arc. There’s no real reason why it’s her, or why the floating head of Friedrich Nietzsche gives you the tutorial. Similarly, there’s no reason why Vlad Tepes (of Dracula fame) is the next unlockable character, and given their tattoo-esque art style. At least Vlad has vampiric abilities though; there’s nothing to tie Jeanne to her character, making the whole thing feel as lacklustre as it does cynical.
Back to Nietzsche, the philosopher does give a reasonable breakdown of the basic gameplay, but what follows is a poorly explained set of mechanics. He doesn’t, for example, explain what some of the mechanics on cards do until you use them and navigate to the right part of the screen on your next turn — something that’s not the easiest within what is a very port from PC to Switch. Sometimes they show up on hover, sometimes they don’t, and since there’s no touchscreen controls in handheld mode, you’re damned to battle with the UI.
And it’s just as bad outside of combat — it took me a solid 30 minutes to figure out that if I pretended to quit a run early I could restore 10% of my health without penalty — something that isn’t explained anywhere that I can find. There’s also a store where you can upgrade your deck, but good luck finding it…
Nietzsche sadly doesn’t warn you about the questionable gameplay decisions that the devs took, like the brutal difficulty curve, the punishing bosses, or the completely stapled on city-building mechanic that serves you between runs.
So, if we were to generously say that the game has a story arc – your mission is to escape Hell by beating the bosses at the end of the run – why are we spending resources to build up the city that you are trying to escape from? And if we’re building this fantastic bastion from which to launch our assaults, why is this building mechanic so bland? For all its stylistic glory, this looks like it fell out of a LucasArts game circa 1990.
The only real good thing about the game is the visuals, which do look pretty fantastic, if completely unrelated to the characters they represent.