Nephenthesys is a vertically-scrolling, but wide-screen, shoot ’em up from budget kings eastasiasoft and it’s all been put together by enigmatic coders Let’s Dev Studios (we say enigmatic because these guys have no website and no social media presence). A credits screen reveals them to be a small studio with a Programmer, Artist, Project Manager and a guy doing the music.
There’s not much plot to speak of (what there is told via a badly programmed text screen), or indeed a definition of whatever ‘Nephenethesys’ means and so you’ll be diving right in with this one. An unnecessary tutorial explains the basics. You move with the left stick/d-pad, shoot with and fire off your drone ability with . Beyond that there’s not much to worry about apart from picking your ship from an initial selection four ships with five more that are unlocked by meeting various conditions (beating the game, completing specific levels with specific ships or by not taking damage – that sort of thing).
From there it’s just a case of beating the game’s five stages which you’d expect to be pretty light work given eastasiasoft’s track record of throwing double Platinums at you but, oddly, that’s not the case here. That’s partly down to the game’s levels which aren’t long, but kind of feel like they are, and feature wave after wave of fairly bland enemies. Memorising their patterns is the key to success here but you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s all procedurally-generated given how lacking in character and diversity they all are.
The other issue is with the ships themselves. It’s weird how that, given all the choice, you always feel underpowered. The blue ship seems to be the only half-decent one with its laser beam weapon but some of the ships are borderline useless. The purple one is really odd. The ship’s downside is that power-ups now hurt you but the ‘upside’ is your spinning laser drone weapon which is pretty awful. Each ship’s drone weapon is essentially a smart bomb but most of them don’t clear the screen or bullets. If you don’t feel powerful in a shoot ’em up, it’s never going to be enjoyable. That said, the orange ship, which is unlocked by beating stage three with the purple one, has a neat homing missile which ended up being our favourite to use.
Another issue is with those controls. As simple as they are, there’s just a of weirdness here. The left stick is a little too sensitive for our tastes and there’s no option to reduce the sensitivity. Things get worse though with the d-pad. It feels far too eager and is no use for precise play. That said, precision is pretty difficult given that you can’t really see a hit box on your ship. We weren’t all that convinced by the game’s collision detection anyway, but it’s kind of hard to work out if that’s the issue.
The overall feeling with Nephenthesys is that Let’s Dev don’t really know what they are doing. It holds together just enough to be competent but there’s no learning from shoot ’em up history here. From the fact that taking hits powers down your weapon (because yeah, that’s exactly what the player needs when they’ve just taken a hit) or the way that your bomb weapon is tied to your health and is only available when you’re at max health. You lose a chunk when you use it also. Why? We have no idea.
Probably the most telling thing is that your score, health and any boss character health bars are at the bottom of the screen. Like right there in your way. This is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up. You’re at the bottom of the screen. Why clutter it with UI elements? They don’t even fade out when your ship is under them. This is basic stuff and they just don’t get the basics right here.
The only upside is that the slightly increased difficulty does make the game a little bit more interesting. Sleepwalking your way to the next Platinum is pretty tedious so we were glad of the additional challenge here (it’s hardly Ikaruga though). And there’s a little bit of fun to be had with the game’s online leaderboard. It’s not exactly a battleground but at least the top ten slots are occupied.
The presentation doesn’t elevate things either. From a fairly unpleasant soundtrack to messy 3D visuals with anti-aliasing so absent that it can look like background objects have been torn into shape from bits of paper, this isn’t an attractive game to play. The visuals don’t get in the way of the action though and bullet clarity is at least pretty reasonable.
But really, there’s not much here for us to be able to recommend it. Trophy whores will begrudge actually having to get half-good and real shoot ’em up heads will have played dozens of shoot ’em ups on PSN that do what this game does but better. But if you want a fair cheap game that doesn’t offend and has at least a bit of replayability, Nephenthesys does just about enough.
+ Earning the extra ships creates some replayability
+ Reasonably clear visuals
- All the ships feel weak
- Uninspired enemy and level design
- Poor presentation