Imagine yourself in an amusement park. In that amusement park, you see a ride that is themed after a beloved toy from your childhood. It doesn’t look like a particularly good ride but it doesn’t look bad enough to avoid completely and so your love of the brand compels you to get on. To your surprise the ride begins and it isn’t half bad, not a great ride but far from the worst. But then you slowly realize that this ride isn’t a ride at all, it’s an elaborate machine that sucks souls, leaving all who come off of it an empty, hollow husk. Have you imagined it? Good, now take that make believe scenario and make it playable and you have Nerf Legends.
Nerf Legends as a concept is sound. It is essentially Quake for Kids. The game plays and is structured like an old-school arena shooter. Enemies will surround you, movement is key, there are even power-ups to pick up. I can’t really say that it’s a poor use of the Nerf license and there is certainly an untapped market for a game like this for kids that are too young to rip and tear through demons in Doom or blast through Covenant in Halo. But concept and execution are two different things.
The first thing you’ll be greeted with when you start the game is a cutscene featuring a masked figure taking on robots with a Nerf gun. From there you will create a character by choosing a gender, picking from a selection of heads that all look the same, and finally picking a hairstyle. You can change your character at anytime and there are visors and outfits you can unlock by playing. From there, you’re dropped into a little hub where you can select the game’s single player campaign, the multiplayer, your locker and armory where you can change your character’s looks and buy and equip weapons and the options menu.
I will just get it out of the way now that multiplayer is completely dead on arrival. There is no matchmaking in the game, for whatever reason, the only way to play online is to either join or host a lobby and there are precisely zero lobbies. Not that having matchmaking would do anything to solve the dead population but it’s odd for a modern multiplayer game to not have it. I understand that the game is a throwback to classic shooters but there are some things that evolved from the 90s for a reason. There is also no local multiplayer of any kind. While I find it important to review something for what it is instead of what I want it to be, not having local multiplayer in a Nerf game of all things is one of the most baffling omissions I’ve ever come across in a game. Here is this family friendly shooter based on a beloved toy line and you can’t even play it with your kids. Not that you should play it with your kids but the option should still be there.
With no multiplayer that leaves the single player as the only game mode. To my surprise, the campaign has a decent amount of content. There is a flimsy story holding it together that features some legendary Nerf athlete whose name I cannot remember holding something called the Nerf Trials. Why he is holding them is never explained but he’s holding them and your character is competing in them. So you must go through the Nerf Trials which are all in a simulation, defeat all the Nerf Masters and then you win. What do you win you might be asking, well, I have no idea. No prize is stated because as I said, there is no explanation for why this guy is holding these trials. The real prize is being able to say you beat Nerf Legends and still have the will to live. There’s 4 areas each with 4 or 5 levels that will take around 20 minutes to complete and then a final boss. In total, it takes around 6 hours to beat, if you make it to the end before it breaks you.
The levels actually have a decent variety of locations. Because it all takes place in a simulation, you’ll go to places like a castle, a jungle and a Viking village among others. In each of these levels you’ll use your selected Nerf Blasters to take out robot enemies. Taking out enemies gives you points towards your score and rapidly hitting enemies increases your multiplier. Getting a good high score will net you medals, either bronze, silver or gold and getting medals unlocks things like new Blasters, new outfits, Blaster skins and Perks that you can equip to your guns to give stat bonuses. That’s the only thing getting a high score is good for and inexplicably, the game doesn’t record your score nor the medal you won. So if you net 2 million points in a level like I did, as soon as the level is complete and you’re back in the hub, that score might as well never have happened. It isn’t marked anywhere, there is no leaderboard, and when you go back to level select, it doesn’t even indicate what medal you got. The only way to know is based on what stuff you have unlocked. I just can’t comprehend how a design decision like that is made and approved. A game with a scoring system that doesn’t record your score.
There are 15 Blasters in the game, all modeled after real life ones. You can bring three into a level, 2 primaries and a sidearm as well as a melee weapon. The Blasters themselves aren’t bad. They all feel distinct, with different stats, different sounds, different recoil. You start out with three and then have to unlock the rest. To unlock them, you must get a bronze medal on specific levels. There’s a mix of automatics, shotguns, snipers and one minigun. That mix is useless though because if you aren’t using an automatic weapon then you’re handicapping yourself. Because you’re firing Nerf Darts, even these sci-fi laser Nerf Darts, they’re still Nerf Darts so a weapon like a shotgun or a rifle will shoot darts that enemies can easily dodge before the darts hit them, this opens you up for attack and not hitting them makes your multiplier go down so your mostly useless score becomes even worse and you begin to question all the life decisions that lead you to playing this game.
There’s also no real reason to ever change weapons once you find an automatic weapon that you like. Blasters in Nerf Legends can be leveled up by using them but there’s no indication anywhere of how that system works. There’s no XP bar, it doesn’t even tell you when you’ve leveled up a Blaster, so you won’t even know unless you go into your collection and see that the number next to it is bigger. When a Blaster levels up, it does increased damage and you’re able to equip more perks to it. So once I unlocked a Blaster I liked, I kept using it and it leveled up and therefore did more damage. Every time I unlocked a new Blaster, I tried it out but since each new Blaster starts at level 0, they were all so much more underpowered than the Blaster I leveled up that there was no reason to ever switch. Seriously, by the time this Blaster was max level (which wasn’t very long) I was melting the toughest enemies and even the boss battles were a breeze. Anytime I swapped to my second weapon, it just wasn’t worth it so I eventually stopped swapping.
You don’t even have to worry about enemies at longer ranges, I never encountered an enemy that I couldn’t reach with my chosen blaster. Your strongest weapon though is your melee which is a one hit kill on all of the basic enemies so a lot of the time you can just run around and spam that. Melee which has no impact attached to it so it feels like your passing through the enemies and then they explode. Although maybe that’s a metaphor for how this game goes into your soul and destroys you from the inside. Simply put, there is no reason to experiment with different weapons. There’s no reason to change your loadout, there isn’t even a reason to swap to your secondary or sidearm. The game punishes you for switching weapons as if playing Nerf Legends isn’t punishment enough. Every time I switched weapons I hated myself for trying to have fun with different Nerf guns. This game made me convince myself that I was wrong for wanting to use more than one Nerf Blaster and that I should be ashamed for even attempting it even though it proudly brandishes those 15 Blasters for you to try. If the whole thing is an elaborate metaphor for depression and anxiety then bravo tot he developers for replicating that feeling perfectly but I suspect that wasn’t the intention.
Enemy variety is bad. There’s a few different enemies to fight and bosses you fight do end up being added to the enemy rotation but despite those enemies having their own attacks, all the regular enemies have the same ones. From crab bots to humanoid bots, they have the same attack, they shoot you with a laser. The tougher enemies that derive from the boss battles have actual distinct attacks but every single enemy has the same attack pattern. They all just run towards you. Except the flying drone enemies that will just hover in place and shoot. I don’t know what kind of operation this supposed legendary Nerf athlete is running or what he’s trying to accomplish by holding the Nerf Trials but the robots he has populated them with are complete idiots. If the robots see you, they will just charge at you with absolutely no strategy. If they don’t see you, they will make no attempt to find you. This leads to situations in areas where you must kill all the enemies to continue, where if there is one left that doesn’t know where you are then it will just chill out and wait for you to find it which causes your multiplier to go down which will anger you and once again make you question what you’re doing with your life.
Nerf Legends starts off by fulfilling the promise of being a kid friendly arena shooter. In the first couple levels, it leaves a solid if unremarkable impression. The graphics aren’t great but they aren’t bad either and have a suitable cartoony Overwatch like aesthetic. The gunplay too is not awful. There are certainly better shooters, and Nerf Legends aiming isn’t quite as smooth as I would have liked but it works well enough and to a kid new to the genre it’s fine. But then everything else starts to pile up. Any fun that may be had in the opening levels quickly descends into malaise until by the end you are having a full blown existential crisis. There’s nothing egregiously awful here but it’s filled with so many holes that you could strain rice with it.
Other than shooting the dumbest robots known to man, the main thing Nerf Legends has you do is shooting buttons. That’s right. You will go to an area and after killing all the enemies, you’ll be told that to progress you have to solve a button puzzle. These button puzzles range from running around looking for buttons to shoot, shooting buttons in a particular order and that’s it. Some of these buttons are obvious and some are so obtusely hidden that I can’t believe this was made by human beings. Most of these sections will have you backtrack through an area to look for buttons that weren’t there before. Sometimes enemies will continuously spawn while you look for the buttons and other times you’ll be left all alone, to search for the buttons in peace while you contemplate the meaning of life and wonder about your own existence.
There’s also platforming sections which wouldn’t be so bad if your character didn’t jump with all the grace of frog that was recently hit by a car. In Nerf Legends, you jump high and you jump far so it’s hard to land on platforms with precision. You also can’t climb ledges so if you just barely make it to a ledge, you will fall and die and lose points which lowers your score, lowers your morale and lowers the thing inside all of us that makes us human. There’s a particular section in the second level where you have to jump from zipline to zipline and since your character jumps so high and the zipline is such a thin target, it’s incredibly easy to miss and because for some reason in this section they decided not to allow you to be able to adjust in mid air, if you don’t jump at the exact right millisecond, you will die. I lost 50,000 points on this section because of how difficult it was to land on these ziplines. It made be fondly reminisce on flying through rings in Superman 64 because compared to this, that was butter smooth. At the end of this zipline section I was greeted by about 2 dozen enemies right in front of me in a small area with a single rock for cover in the middle. This is a game for kids and as far as I’m concerned, that’s child abuse.
There’s a slide mechanic that you will pretty much never use and is only here to remind you that this is indeed a video game and not a sick psychological experiment. There’s also a shield so useless that you’ll question whether it’s actually a shield or some sort of prank. You can activate this shield whenever you like and can keep it up for a limited amount of time. The problem is that when the shield is up you can’t do anything other than move. It also only protects your front side and in a game where enemies will often come from all directions, including above, only protecting your front and not allowing you to shoot means it’s never really worth it. You can’t even activate it when you’re reloading. It’s as protective as a broken condom.
Audio is a mixed bag. The Nerf Guns sound fine but because everything is sci-fi they don’t sound like real Nerf Guns. The sound of the darts hitting the robots is a faint *clink* that I’d be lying if I said didn’t sound a little like how a real nerf dart sounds when hitting something metal but these are supposed to be laser darts so that sound doesn’t even make sense in the context of the game. Melee attacks don’t even have a sound effect attached, they’re completely silent. Music is generic and repetitive. And when I say repetitive, I mean repetitive. Not only does there only appear to be a few songs in the game but each level seemingly only has one track playing. The tracks themselves are repetitive but multiple times throughout my playthrough the song in the level just stopped and after a few seconds of silence began again. Maybe it was a glitch but what it felt like was that instead of properly looping the tracks, they just ended and then started again. There’s some voice acting that actually is pretty good and the dialogue is very much like a Saturday morning cartoon. There’s no real story though so no reason to care about what’s being said but kids might like some of the quips. But kids also like to eat glue so using them as a measure of quality is dubious. Adults might like this game if they sniff glue but they still shouldn’t play it because even they are not beyond help.
Other than the music stopping and starting again which I don’t believe was a glitch, my time in Nerf Legends was basically bug free. I played on PS5 and there weren’t any noticeable bugs or glitches. Performance had some issues though. Most of the time it was fine, but in some instances where there were a lot of enemies on screen attacking at once and a lot of effects, performance would slow down considerably. The worst of this happened in the last level where there’s a huge amount of enemies coming at you but most egregiously was during the final boss fight. The final boss didn’t actually have that much going on in it and yet there was still a lot of slowdown that made it incredibly frustrated to have to playthrough.
When I started Nerf Legends, it was fine. In the first few levels, none of it’s issues were that noticeable. The shooting was alright so I had a nice time killing enemies, and racking up a high score. But as I continued, Nerf Legends revealed itself to be a grifter. It pulled me in with false promises and slowly but surely took everything I had. The buttons became prominent, they became more and more soul sucking to find. The more enemies there were the easier it was to see how dumb they were. The more platforming there was, the more apparent it became on how floaty the movement was. And every time I hopped onto a mandatory jump pad that sprung me to bounce off a wall and to my demise on the cliffs below I died more on more on the inside. Every time a button was further and further away, I died a little on the inside. Every time I tried a new weapon to see how little damage it did to basic enemies, I died a little on the inside. There are no obvious signs of an atrocity here, it does not hit you over the head with it’s badness, it abuses you emotionally until you are broken.
Nerf Legends might not be the worst game I’ve ever played, it’s probably not even the worst game I’ve played this year because for everything wrong with it, there were some fleeting feelings of fun in this. When the game just puts you in an area with room to maneuver and take cover, and fills it enemies that actually attack, a good time can be had. It’s in those moments that I saw what Nerf Legends could have been, a good if unremarkable licensed game that would serve as a good introduction to this genre. A Quake for Kids. But those moments are too few and far between and in their stead are boring, repetitive tasks to push buttons, brain dead A.I. and awful platforming. The more you play, the more of those problems you’ll notice and the worse you will feel as you go through the levels and look at a high score that will be erased as soon as you finish, as if the game itself is gaslighting you.
There is nothing here that is obviously bad and you might even start it and think that it’s pretty okay but what Nerf Legends does is wear you down. The longer you play it, the more it’s problems become apparent, the more it eats away at you until finally, by the time you are finished, you will question not only why you even play video games but you’ll question your very existence on this planet. I cannot recommend this to anyone. Whether you love Nerf, love arena shooters or love licensed games. Not even if you’re a masochist. There may not be other arena shooters for kids but there are other shooters for kids. This is the perfect gift for a child that needs to be punished but if you truly love your kids then do not get this for them. If you have a Switch and want an arena shooter for them, get Hypercharge Unboxed which has single-player, multiplayer online and local and is a toy themed FPS infinitely better than this. If you don’t have a Switch, get them Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare, or Star Wars Battlefront, hell just get them Doom which will traumatize them less than this. I began Nerf Legends feeling optimistic about the prospect of a kid friendly arena shooter. Now that I’ve finished Nerf Legends I feel nothing. I am empty. A hollow husk that may never love again.
Rating: The Fact It Exists in the Same Universe as Paddington 2 is Proof That Humanity is Beyond Redemption
This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post
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