As a brand, NERF is a notable throwback to my childhood. Harmless target shooting with an array of exotic weaponry (to my younger eyes) could take up hours of my time. Now imagine the aptly-titled publisher GameMill Entertainment fusing that with another throwback from games' history: the rushed-to-market licensed game with an outrageous price point. The latter option in the "It's NERF or Nothin" tagline has never been more fitting.
The "story" is more of straightforward pretext to complete challenge rooms versus any kind of narrative arc. The reputable Dr. Reynolds puts new recruits through various trials, both against hordes of enemy robots and several NERF masters, to attain the title of "NERF Legend." Gifted with an AI companion, you face down a series of gauntlets before earning that prestigious award.
Even struggling to conjure up several sentences that boil down to "someone wants you to fight things" lends more credit than it probably deserves. The majority of interactions highlight your friendly AI quailing about a new enemy type or sharing some cheesy jokes with Dr. Reynolds (which are awful by kid's standards) via intercom. Aside from this, choppy cutscenes are played depicting your next NERF master opponent. Each master tries their luck at humor too, but the only enjoyment to be found here is every cut scene’s audio delay for sound design, lip-syncing, and so on. The consistency to be this inconsistent is a tremendous feat all its own.
Even if continuous challenge rooms doesn't result in an interesting story, it's easy to see how gameplay could benefit. First-person shooters of yore were a dime a dozen, from level design to enemy placements. But the majority of it is a messy slog of uncoordinated puzzles, unexciting combat, and insane repetition.
Prior to an update mostly ameliorating this issue, wrestling with shooting fundamentals was aggressively off-putting. Since default movement (horizontal or vertical) felt too slow, I bumped it up a few notches. After that, aiming in any direction felt uncomfortable during hectic fights; it was like every other frame was secretly removed but only for my character's shooting hand. And that's just the opening issue regarding framerate. One temporary weapon booster is notorious for cratering framerate to the single digits with each successive shot. Granted, this effect doesn't last very long, but I can't believe someone was so dedicated to this power-up that even QA's obvious concerns were ignored.
Once you're past those notable issues, Legends' gameplay really opens up to being a bland, quasi-functional shooter. The routine starts like many others: a pre-stage loadout where you select primary, secondary, sidearm, and melee weapons to take along. There's a modest selection of weapons too, from long-range snipers to burst-fire SMGs; moreover, your suite of options – in weapons, perks, and cosmetics – rely on your tallied score in each gauntlet. Such customization is also transplanted to your avatar as well, be it suits, headgear, and so on.
When looking from a bird's eye view, this reward apparatus is totally fine on its own. It's once you're experiencing it that all problems come into alignment. Every area starts the same: go towards obvious roadblock, have enemies “surprise” you, handle some boring puzzle (during or after fight), and repeat. The majority of enemies range from robotic humanoids, spider tanks, and flying drones; each one has a big-brother variant, but they all function similarly. The only real tactic is kiting around and landing your shots. It's all about dishing a fusillade of foam darts and scoring bigger point combos, but there's no real challenge at staying alive thanks to generous health pick-ups.
The only hints of a combative challenge, some masters and mini-bosses, is more thanks to the stiff aiming versus complex movesets. Fun Labs' recurring trick with them is bumping run speed against your projectile darts. Given how Legends isn't anywhere close to having a satisfactory aiming system for leading shots, my hatred for each unnecessarily protracted fight grows more and more. Any other enemies that fall outside these described clades are either boring bullet sponges or an obnoxious horde of seeker mines.
These problems exemplify how its score-based system seems fine on paper but terrible in practice. The rules are simple: successful hits and kills add to score combo while getting hit and downtime detracts from the combo meter. To the average shooter fan, this sounds like a potentially kid-safe version of an arcade mode in one of the new DOOM games; instead, so many arenas have such scarcely-populated enemies that netting big combos seems neigh impossible. There's no rhythm to it. Once you start netting any semblance of a score streak, you're railroaded by an obtuse puzzle that exclusively relies on objective markers to make sense. The best score route on several levels is by cheesing heavy turrets with continuous melee strikes; I never maxed out the combo meter until I hid behind them and starting whacking. This nets better combos than clearing an entire room without getting hit. It’s a terribly-implemented system all around.
Level design over-emphasizes first-person platforming for its own good. Jump pads were sometimes unreliable, which typically resulted in one of Legends' numerous insta-death pits. There's more of a challenge in platforming from these, or uncoordinated zip line-hopping on the rare occasion, than combat. It's surprising just how much Fun Labs built these sizeable linear arenas, yet didn't pay much heed to polish concerns.
One aspect worth extending credit towards would be the visual variety – to an extent. As someone who grew up with several low-grade kids' sci-fi shows of the 90s/00s, the kitschy aesthetic to humans and robots is kind of fun. Some of that luster is lost during combat though, when the effusion of splashy lights when firing shots overwhelms the screen. Game direction seems like a strange turn for JJ Abrams. The various exteriors, such as jungles, mountainous locales, shuttle launch stations, etc., are nice skyboxes; and yet, it's a shame how often level design shuffles you through interchangeable corridors.
Legends' sound work is practically allergic to variety by comparison. For starters, the soundtrack is basically three mall-rock beats on repeat ad nauseum. Ranks among the worst I've heard in a while. Secondly, sound design can be a poorly-mixed mess (especially for headphones). Certain impact noises have this tinny reverb that suggest they originated from someone's mouth, instead of a sound foley studio. There's some difference between various weapons, but they lack oomph! behind them anyways. Finally, details like environmental background and UI feedback are absent far too often, making these places feel so empty.
Legends' campaign is among the most shallow, corporate-driven mistakes to release this year. Its technical incompetencies, from previously-mentioned framerate issues to sound design, catastrophize a creatively banal shooter that never leverages anything noteworthy from its arcade roots. Like the brand's merchandise, every aspect feels likes a plastic facsimile of the shooters it's emulating.
Since acquiring this title shortly after launch, I've yet to see a single online lobby by another player. The place was destined to be dead within days of releasing. For all I know, Fun Labs' servers could be working just fine. But without a solitary soul to experience it with, I'm left to rely on judging this title strictly by its single-player options.
I tend to focus on a game's core elements versus a nebulous sense of value via number-crunching; however, I'm really compelled to address the $50 price point (retail) in light of these other issues. Perhaps the 4+ hours on offer, between gauntlets and some customizations to play with, hits your subjective threshold, but that misses the point. You can immediately sense GameMill Entertainment was trying to pilfer grandma's purse for that last-minute holiday purchase. It radiates from Legends' NERF-marrow outward. But regardless of the condition, the main thrust of my point is that GameMill should indemnify with anyone who even wasted their time - whether at full or discounted price.
In sum, NERF Legends ranks among 2021's worst games sold at retail chains. Its front cover captures that fun appeal of taking on a robot army, but the actual game falls short in virtually every regard: online multiplayer that's dead on arrival, copious technical faults showing it was rushed to market, unexciting shooting mechanics, repetitive to its core, egregious up-front cost, and on and on and on it goes. Never has a silly sci-fi jaunt shooting mechs with toy guns felt so joyless as Fun Labs' commercialized glop.
TechRaptor reviewed NERF Legends on Xbox Series X with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- Kitschy Sci-Fi Aesthetic Has Some Appeal
- Works When I Put The Disc In
- Inconsistent Framerate & Annoying Bugs
- Awful Mechanics Between Shooting, Puzzles, & Platforming
- Banal, Uncoordinated Level Design
- Quickly Gets Repetitive
- Bad Sound Design & Lacking Soundtrack