Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder is an aptly-titled deckbuilder roguelike which has just left Early Access, developed by Black Eye Games and Team Nadir. Although the fundamentals have much in common with similar titles, such as Banners of Ruin and Slay the Spire, Nadir’s distinct art style and its unique twists to the deckbuilder formula give it an identity all of its own, even if it has some room for additional polish.
The gist of Nadir is simple: you play as one of three damned souls as you descend into the bowels of Hell to fight powerful demons. With each run, you accumulate resources to expand your base and unlock new characters and options for future expeditions. The character models are wonderfully intricate and grotesque, from your terrifying skeletal player characters to the gruesome demonic opponents, with the overall art style falling somewhere between Mike Mignola’s art in the Hellboy comics and a Megadeth album cover.
Each run in Nadir plays fairly similar to Slay the Spire, albeit with a bigger emphasis on combat. It is fortunate that there is a lot of combat, however, as it’s pretty sweet. All of the cards in your deck are separated into blue and red effects. Your opponent also has three cards, which can be either blue or red and are visible to you. Your cards all require the opponent to have a minimum number of the corresponding coloured cards on the field, with the most powerful effects generally only being useable if your foe has all three cards of the same colour. You can also build your own cards between combat encounters, mixing and matching blue and red effects to create the ideal deck.
The main twist is that you have the ability to influence what cards your opponent has; the game is as much about manipulating your opponent as it is about playing your own cards. When you play a certain number of blue or red cards, your opponent will trigger the effect of their card of the same colour, which might be an attack, a status effect or buffing themself. The card that was triggered is then swapped out for a new card of the opposite colour. It is a wonderfully intricate system that works perfectly when you are using it to play your opponent like a fiddle, like stacking a bunch of Shield cards before triggering your opponent’s powerful attack, and then being able to play your own powerful card now that your opponent’s card has changed colour. Even if you have nothing you can play, you can redraw your cards as many times per battle as you like, however, your opponent also gets to redraw, and will get a useful buff from doing so.
Despite its highly engaging combat system, Nadir feels lacking in much further depth and polish. For whatever reason, your player character has their own death animation, but enemies don’t, leading battles to awkwardly cut to the rewards screen halfway through you delivering the final blow. While the game looks great on the Nintendo Switch, the font size is needlessly small in many areas, causing me to need to squint to read the flavour text when playing in portable mode. The game overall could also stand to be more rewarding with its upgrade currency, as you receive practically nothing useful following a failed run. As such, any run where I failed began to feel like a waste of time, compared to games like Hades or Rogue Legacy 2, where unsuccessful runs almost always at least contribute towards unlocking something for next time. Hopefully many of these issues will be ironed out as Nadir enters its full release.
Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder is one of the most innovative deckbuilder roguelikes I have played in a long time. Its card-building and enemy manipulation mechanics are an engaging twist to a familiar formula, adding more of a puzzle element to a genre typically governed by randomness. While it still feels somewhat light on content and a bit unpolished, there is an incredibly strong foundation here, and I look forward to future runs and discovering more of what Nadir has to offer. Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder is out now on PC and Nintendo Switch.