Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Nerf Legends Review

There was a time in the early 2000s when you could reach into the bottom of a cereal box and occasionally pull out an entertainingly bad, low budget video game. Nerf Legends feels like it was supposed to be in one of those boxes, but was left out because it's not safe to package something this harmful to your health alongside someone’s breakfast. With atrocious gunplay, joyless puzzles, cringey writing, painful bugs, and legitimately broken multiplayer, this half baked disaster has absolutely nothing of interest to offer – even to those just looking for a nostalgic laugh. It’s a sloppy, tragic first-person shooter, and one of the worst games I’ve played in a long time.

Arming you with an array of foam dart firing Nerf Blasters, the six-hour barebones story mode in Nerf Legends sends you on a strange and low stakes quest to defeat five different Nerf masters and secure your place among them. You don’t learn who any of the Nerf masters are and there isn’t some greater reason you’re trying to become a Nerf legend, with none of the childlike silliness a story like this could have so easily embraced. Instead you’re just told you need to do it and then a robot makes corny jokes at you along the way, as if playing through each level wasn’t bad enough on its own.

Each new area has you running through three or four repetitive obstacle courses where you fight swarms of cliche robotic enemies and solve braindead puzzles before you fight a samey boss and move on to the next gauntlet. Chief among the many gameplay atrocities you’ll endure is the godawful gunplay, which is an unsatisfying, frustrating, and buggy pile of mistakes. For one, shooting its Nerf guns just feels bad. Every weapon is inaccurate, wiggles around as you fire it, and needs to be reloaded painfully slowly every couple of seconds – so actually kinda close to using real Nerf guns. It also doesn’t feel good to fire them as your bullets are hard to see, barely make a noise as they leave your weapon, and have hardly any recognizable impact when they hit what you’re firing at unless you deal a killing blow, at which point the enemy explodes into pieces.

When I played with Nerf guns as a kid, I’d always imagined larger-than-life explosions emanating from my weapons, doing exaggerated damage to anything I aimed at – the look and feel of a Nerf gun plays into that fantasy when you hold one in your hands. Instead, Nerf Legends finds a way to suck all the fun and fantasy out of Nerf by making them all feel weak, unwieldy, and incredibly mundane, and that’s a missed opportunity that only grew to disappoint me more and more the longer I played.

The godawful gunplay is an unsatisfying, frustrating, and buggy pile of mistakes.

What’s even worse is that, for whatever reason, attacking enemies with a melee hit is actually one of the most efficient ways to take them out. It actually one-hit kills most robots and is oftentimes easier than using the guns since you don’t have to deal with frustrating reload times. Because that’s what I remember most fondly from those childhood Nerf fights with my brothers: all the melee attacks. Brilliant!

Believe it or not, that mess of unsatisfying gunplay is actually when it’s working as intended, because it regularly doesn’t. Guns will randomly lock up, not letting you fire bullets or reload until you swap weapons and swap back, which is incredibly frustrating. And sometimes you lose the ability to turn around or aim your weapons where you want with an odd glitch that drags your crosshair to one corner or another like a ghost has its thumb jammed up against your joystick. When this happened the only solution I found to fix it was killing myself and respawning. Unfortunately, that creates even more issues, because dying tends to break everything else.

That’s right! Sometimes you’ll die and your character will just never respawn – instead you’ll find yourself stuck on an eternal kill cam until you quit to the main menu or reboot, which causes you to lose all progress for that level. Normally dying is a fairly regular, low stakes occurrence that results in an immediate respawn and practically no negative repercussions. But in the 10 or so times where dying lost me 20 minutes of progress due to this bug, I had to turn off my console and walk it off.

The enemies you fight in each level are one of the more upsetting aspects of this Nerf misadventure too, as you fight the same handful of robot creatures over and over again and exactly none of them are interesting. Most enemies are little robot spiders or humanoids that pepper you with bullets while waddling around waiting to be killed. Occasionally you’ll find a big robo-scorpion or giant mecha that’s easier to kill if you aim for glowing weak spots, but the novelty of those fights wears off after their first appearance and you’ll see a whole lot of them as the levels go by.

Sometimes your character will die and just never respawn.

There are also lots of puzzles, though I’m using the term “puzzles” extremely loosely here. Most sections amount to standing in an area and fighting unlimited waves of enemies until a timer counts down or finding giant red buttons and shooting them with your gun to open a door. Hunting for buttons is actually an enormous part of what you spend your time doing in Nerf Legends, as almost every area has a big red forcefield that wants you to find three to five buttons in the immediate area before moving on. They’re completely pointless searches that add nothing except to delay your advance through the level, like the developers are charging you by the hour or something. I get that this is a Nerf game that’s probably designed for kids, but if stuff like Minecraft and Roblox are any indication, it’s hard to imagine any child who can hold a controller finding these puzzles even remotely compelling.

Did I mention that Nerf Legends has some of the worst sound design I’ve ever heard? Because, good lord are you in for an auditory nightmare. The music consists almost exclusively of repetitive guitar solos while enemies beep and boop at you and the speaking characters haunt you with cringe-worthy performances. Whenever you have less than 50% of your health, which happens regularly, you hear a loud heartbeat that doesn’t go away until you heal. I get it, guys! I’m low on health!

And worst of all: every single time you pick up a healing item, which happens constantly, you hear a loud beeping noise no fewer than four times. Four! It’s like getting punched in the ears four times every couple of seconds. It’s so irritating I actually preferred to just not pick up healing items or even let myself die sometimes because the beeping doesn’t happen when you respawn. It’s that annoying. Unfortunately, if you choose not to heal to avoid the beep, you get the heartbeat sound, so you can choose between your preferred version of hell.

There are also boss fights, which serve as skill checks before you can advance to the next part of the campaign, but they do practically nothing to break up the persistent monotony. Each fight has you enter the ring with a humanoid that you’ve gotta beat three times before they kill you three times, and they are the only levels you can actually fail and have to start again. Unfortunately, with the exception of the final boss who does some barely interesting ninja moves like cloning copies of himself, these boss encounters do nothing to separate themselves from normal combat. The boss wanders around and shoots at you, you shoot back until they die, and it’s all over in a couple minutes. And, of course, all the issues with gunplay still apply to these battles, only with slightly higher stakes.

Picking up healing items is like getting punched in the ears.

Nerf Legends also has a multiplayer mode, or to be more precise, it doesn’t have one. That’s because the PvP it has literally doesn’t work. And when I say literally, I mean it genuinely is not functional. If you try to access the multiplayer mode, most of the time it tells you that you aren’t connected to the internet and locks you out entirely. When that doesn’t happen, it either tells you that no lobbies exist for you to join (presumably because no one else is playing) or asks you to make your own public lobby and wait for others to join. I tried to enter a multiplayer match for several hours a day for the better part of a week at different times of day and wasn’t able to play a single match. So far as I can tell from the reports of others online as well, there’s just no way to get multiplayer to work currently – but let’s be honest, we probably all dodged a foam dart there anyway.

A complete lack of functional multiplayer, not respawning upon death, and guns not working correctly aren’t the only bugs you’ll find in this foam-covered catastrophe either. Not by a long shot! I got hard crashes to the Xbox dashboard, cutscenes that start in the middle for some reason, lip-syncing for characters that’s several seconds out of sync, enemies floating in the air when they aren’t supposed to, and much more. And don’t even get me started on the zipline system, which stalls you in the air for a second every time you attach yourself to one in the least smooth way possible. Doing so often causes a litany of its own issues, like not being able to move your character once you’ve detached or never being able to change your weapon for the rest of the level after using a zipline. I got so used to zip lines causing issues that seeing those yellow lines in the distance gave me anxiety at what fresh hell I was about to encounter.


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