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Game Review: The End is Nigh Post-Apocalyptic Platform Perfection

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

The End is Nigh is an insidious platformer by Edmund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel. McMillen is known for his contributions to indie games Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac. The End is Nigh  possesses a dark art style and attitude that is unique to McMillen, and with tight controls and relentlessly hard platforming it’s hard not to make comparisons to McMillen’s Super Meat Boy.  With a slower pace and more emphasis on exploration, The End is Nigh is its own creature, so don’t expect a 1:1 translation from Meat Boy to Ash, The End is Nigh’s tumor collecting protagonist. Instead, The End is Nigh distinguishes itself as yet another Edmund McMillen masterpiece tied together aptly by a soundtrack of classics reimagined by Ridiculon.

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

As the last survivor of the apocalypse, Ash, you are on a quest to find games to replace your busted game cartridge, and to repopulate the world.  To complete this quest you must avoid enemies, boiling water, spikes and all other sorts of instant and imminent death while finding collectables and other secrets. The controls are simple – move and jump. Ash can grab ledges, crouch, dive and swim – but he can’t fight. When there are enemies to contend with, the best you can hope for is a head to jump off of, but most of the time they are more instant death to be avoided. Dying is handled in the same manner as Super Meat Boy – you are instantly back at the start of the level and able to try again – and outside of minigames you have unlimited lives. Death is quick, and it will happen lots of times.

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

The levels themselves are small, but difficult. The End is Nigh excels in level variety. Some levels rely on precise jumps, while others require precise timing – often they employ both. There are hundreds of levels grouped into chapters with warp points in between. Not only are the levels riddled with instant death, most are made harder by having “tumors” to collect – little black fleshy lumps that serve as The End is Nigh’s collectibles as well as a sort of challenge mode for each level. To get the tumor in a level usually means taking a harder path or completing the level in a more difficult way. Collect enough tumors, and you’ll be able to access secret levels. There are plenty of other secrets and collectibles to uncover as well. Game cartridges that are found unlock minigames that can be played back at Ash’s house. These minigames have their own rewards and challenges – with the added challenge of having limited lives. These collectibles really give The End is Nigh an emphasis on exploration over speed.

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

There is no over world map that allows you to select individual levels This means replaying some levels multiple times as you travel across them, and explore them, to find any secrets you may have missed.  The End is Nigh’s controls are so tight, and the gameplay is so satisfying, exploration was often a treat more so than a chore. The obstacles and gameplay never feel unfair. It felt like my deaths were a result of a mistake I made, not because I was fighting with the controls.  The control you have over Ash is surgically precise, even allowing mid-air maneuvering to dodge whatever spike or hazard he’s inevitably barreling towards.

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

Ridiculon provides the soundtrack to The End is Nigh, and it is simultaneously the strongest and weakest part of the package.  Ridiculon takes classics like Grieg’s “In the Hall of The Mountain King” and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and adds an electric spin. While the soundtrack itself is great, there isn’t enough of it. Sometimes tracks start to get annoying as there’s little variation within each world – mostly staying the same from level to level. Also, the music sometimes feels out of place – not lively enough for the platforming, or depressing enough for the theme.

Photo courtesy of McMillen and Glaiel

The End is Nigh is an extremely solid entry in the platformer genre, and sits comfortably next to Super Meat Boy as a spiritual successor. The End is Nigh seems to take a lot of what made that game great – tight controls and a surreal lore with a dark sense of humor. Slowing the pace by adding an emphasis on exploration and finding collectibles adds depth and lots of replayability.  A PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch version is planned, but no further details are available at this time. The End is Nigh is currently available for PC on Steam.

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