Two trends that have exploded in the last few years when it comes to video game design, 80s retro nostalgia and roguelikes. It makes sense why those designs would be popular right now; most game players are in the right age group to have a vague remembrance of the brightly colored decade, and roguelikes add a replay factor that is hard to match. So, it’s not surprising that Wildboy Studios decided to merge both concepts together in Nitro Kid.
Nitro Kid is a deckbuilding roguelike where all the movement, attacks, and skills are done on a static tactics grid system. If that sounds like a game that was auto generated by a computer, well it kind of feels like that too. The game has so many mechanics and systems going on that it does not feel like it does any of them as well as it should.
Nitro kid’s story is straightforward. As an agent of CINDER you are pitted against corrupt organization INFINITY, who have cornered the market with a new illicit narcotic Nitro. INFINITY procures the underground drug by extracting it from their test subjects, called “Kids”. The story plays out through codex files obtained after beating elite enemies and bosses. You also occasionally get small titbits of info when you visit random event rooms during a run. The narrative does just enough to provide a backdrop for the repeated runs you are going on as the player.
When you start a run, you pick one of three playable characters L33, J4X, K31. Each is obviously inspired by Bruce Lee, Mike Tyson, and Trinity from the Matrix. In this world dripping with 80s neon, these characters are surprisingly plain and feel like they fell out of a different time and place. You can encounter multiple types of rooms during a run. These can be the basic enemy room, or the alternative elite version that has to be completed before you can fight a boss. There are support rooms, featuring shops where you buy cards or upgrades to patches (passive mods), and the other called a Crystal room where you can upgrade a card in your deck or heal 20HP. The last rooms contain the Nitro Kids. Saving these kids will grant you new skills or allow you to change your current ones. Once you get through the three floors of INFINITY’s base, you “beat” the game. As with games in the roguelike genre, you are encouraged to complete more runs. It unlocks the Security Mode for the character you completed the run with, which is similar to the heat levels in Hades
It’s in these security mode runs where the game’s flaws become apparent. The rooms that you get dropped into for combat feel very claustrophobic and not really conducive to the Into the Breach-style grid strategy intended. I constantly felt like I was fighting against the UI, the lack of information with enemy movement really affecting the flow of encounters. It also doesn’t do a very good job of explaining what its various systems and types of damage are. To learn what “burn” does or how to use “daze” against enemies properly, you have to apply a trial and error approach that can end up costing you a run.
All of those elements feed into my major complaint with Nitro Kid. The combat balance feels completely off. During a run playing J4X, I ended up going against one of the elite enemies named “The Fridge”. This enemy does a ranged ice attack that causes Weak and Fragile, two status ailments that hurt your damage output. As J4X does not have cards that can get rid of either status, I ended up in a cycle of attacking and doing 0 damage while slowly suffering chip damage until I died. There were multiple moments like that during my time with Nitro Kid, where I felt like I was losing due to random misfortune, not because the enemies had out strategized me.
I appreciated how different each of the three player characters felt. My favourites being J4X with his unique combo system to use more powerful cards and K31 with her ranged specialist ammo system tied to how she attacks. Those systems were the closest that the game came to feeling strategic in the way I think it is trying to accomplish.
Thematically, Nitro Kid does nail the 80s retro nostalgia style, using medium resolution graphics to call back to an 8 or 16-bit style. It combines this with a synthwave soundtrack that is compiled by artist Jules Reves to help invoke that nostalgia using modern electronica. The music and the art go together well, but the impact begins to diminish after multiple runs to the point that it all feels redundant and overplayed by the time I was concluding my runs.
On paper, Nitro Kid seems like it should be a slam dunk. It mixes the roguelike framework, grid strategy playstyle, and a deck building mechanic, while mixing them all together in a bright neon package. Instead, it feels less than the sum of its parts. The RNG roguelike aspects detract from possible strategic play against enemies, and the deck building card system is hindered by the roguelike elements, as it never feels like you can build a deck for a run.
It really lacks the “one more run” itch that this title needs, after being done with a run I felt no drive to start another one immediately. When there are games out there that do each of the title’s key mechanics elements individually better, making Nitro Kid really hard to recommend. With other games like “Slay the Spire”, “Hades”, or “Into the Breach” doing this much better if you are a fan of these game mechanics. While Nitro Kid has an interesting core of ideas, a nostalgia evoking art style and a mixture of popular gameplay elements, it doesn’t execute any of them meaningfully enough to stand out in a crowded space.
- Each of the unlockable characters play distinctly from each other
- Has an interesting mixture of game mechanics, combining deck building with grid strategy
- The competitive balance of the game feels off, feels like losing to random occurrences instead of being outplayed.
- The roguelike nature really detracts from the game instead of adding that “one more run” feeling
- Story is just the bare minimum told by codex files, feels inconsequential
- Tutorials are lacking and do not provide context for status effects like “daze”, causing a run to be ruined
Cody’s first experience with video games was Spot Goes to Hollywood for the Sega Genesis. Since that
moment, he has become enamored with the storytelling video games can offer. He enjoys it when his
writing can put a spotlight on video games that are trying to push the boundaries of the medium and
really advance what we think of a video game forward.