Doug’s Nightmare review

There’s no medium more nonsensical than video games. Doug’s Nightmare is a perfect example of this, being a twin-stick top-down shooter based around anxiety and the darkness it brings. It’s a subject well worth highlighting, impacting more people’s lives than many realise, but it also has a coffee-loving banana called Doug as its protagonist. Then again, the antagonist is a perfect embodiment of anxiety – a thoroughly rancid black banana. A fitting analogy. 

Featuring a distinct sketchbook art style (imagine a high school student’s doodle book brought to life) Doug’s Nightmare begins with a carefully explained and nicely presented tutorial. Doug is armed with his flying fists as default and able to attack in all directions. They can also dash, becoming invincible while moving, and perform a special attack when a gauge is full. If too many enemies surround our potassium-laced pal, with usually no more than four spawning at once, then a black banana appears and starts lobbing projectiles until they’re killed. Alternatively, they can be kept away by collecting teddy bears. By the tutorial’s end, a water pistol is added to the inventory, giving the chance to swap between melee and ranged weapons.

Doug’s Nightmare review

New weapons are vital to seek out, ensuring the dungeon-esque levels – which last around 15 minutes each, ushering Doug from one square room to the next before tackling a boss – are explored fully. There’s a bunch of daft attire to look out for too, including a banana bandana and blue striped PJs, although these items are merely cosmetic. Perks can be acquired occasionally though, such as a damage boost. These are gained through playing balloon popping mini-games – the only distraction from the near relentless spawning ‘n shooting loop.

Boss battles are challenging – even the tutorial boss, a parody of Cthulhu, required a few retries. They mostly linger at the top of the screen and shower projectiles below, with each having large health bars to chip away at. Defeating their minions will spawn a health pick-up, meaning every boss battle follows the pattern of ‘attack the boss and then kill their minions to recover health’

Auto-saving occurs after clearing out a room, so you never need to worry about losing progress. There’s a choice of difficulties too (easy and normal) along with the option to auto-shoot – simply press fire once to start shooting and press it again to stop.

Doug’s Nightmare review

Every stage has a different theme along with its own enemy pool, and this is where much of the game’s variety lies. There’s very little outside of this; no puzzles, no sub-bosses, and very few unique environmental hazards. Waves also become predictable. Even towards the story’s end – which, as the name suggests, sees Doug defeating his nightmares – I was mostly using melee weapons to clear rooms quickly, rarely using ranged. At one point I felt like I had missed out on an upgraded weapon or two, as the difficulty swiftly increased, but found no way to return to past stages to explore more thoroughly. The map screen displaying treasure locations would have helped prevent anyone from accidentally overlooking something. If you enter the final stage without decent weapons, you’re screwed.

The fundamentals are robust elsewhere though; this is a basic example of the genre, but there’s a clear understanding of it too. Waves of projectiles are easy to dodge, glowing spots highlight where enemies are about to appear, and the number of enemies on screen is never too overwhelming. I can’t imagine many people wanting to revisit Doug’s Nightmare once the ending credits roll – a task that’ll take 2-3 hours – but while it lasts it’s a competent enough experience with enough warped imagery to make it memorable. Don’t consign poor old Doug to the banana bread pile just yet – he’s just a little soggy in the middle.

Undev’s Doug’s Nightmare is out May 22nd on consoles. Published by eastasiasoft. A PC version is also available.