Nail Bat of Learning — Final Exam [Review]
Final Exam is a Metroid-vania style beat’em up that gets more right than it does wrong. Players are put in the shoes of one of four high school alumni friends who, after a mishap on the way to their high school reunion, have to fight through hordes of mutants (or something like that. We’ll get to why I’m not exactly sure what they are later).
Players can take this journey alone or with up to threefriends in co-op. Each character starts off with their strengths and weaknesses in various stat areas like health, strength, precision, and explosives; but all of these areas can be upgraded as you play through levels and get points to add to your stats by finding collectables and racking up high scores.
Players are equipped with a melee weapon, ranged weapon, and some type of explosive. You start off with a nail bat, 9mm, and a grenade, but as early as the first level you will find boxes that contain new weapons such as a machete, crowbar, flame thrower, Uzi, and Molotov cocktails. I wouldn’t call these weapons upgrades, though, as each has their own advantages. For example, the crowbar doesn’t do as much damage as the nail bat, but it’s faster and allows for a longer combo. It all depends on your play style. My co-op partner enjoyed using the shotgun because it was powerful up-close and that’s how he played, but I preferred the range and stopping power of the Magnum.
Players also have certain skills and abilities they can gain as they play the game. You have a fury meter that fills as you fight enemies that’s split into four sections, and as these section fills you can activate an ability that is unique to your character. I played as Sean, whose abilities all focused on gun play, and his abilities ranged from shooting enemies in multiple directions to powering up his ammo to be armor-piercing or explosive on impact. You have to unlock abilities in order, and each new ability to unlock requires more bars to be filled in the fury meter before you can activate that specific ability. Activating abilities was fast and easy, as all you need to do is hold down the left bumper and press the corresponding face button.Passive abilities include things like increasing your fury meter faster or receiving more health from healing items. You also can unlock combat skills that will allow you to do things like air combos, pile drivers, dashing, etc.
There are a few types of enemies, and most of them can be dealt with in similar fashion – bashing them until they die. Some enemies will can cause extra trouble for you if you leave them undealt with for too long, such as one enemy that jumps to the ceiling and then spits down at you, or another enemy that get close to you and explodes. There isn’t much difference in the way enemies look. For example, there are two types of flying enemies, and the only way I could tell the difference was by how they attacked. There was one level where you have to throw a specific type of enemy into this machine, and pretty much my partner and I just ended up throwing every enemy we saw in until we got the right one. There is a palette swap later in the game, but the only functional difference is that one of the enemies learns how to block.
In terms of bosses you will see, well, there is pretty much only one. You will fight a boss at the end of the first stage, and get ready to see him a lot more, because for a long time he will be the only boss type of enemy you will run into. After that, you will find a larger version of him that you have to fight. The very last boss you fight is different, but other than that you see the same boss over and over again. It’s not even Arkham Asylum style where all of the bosses did the same thing but looked different; this boss looks the same every time.
Unlike most beat’em ups, you and your co-op teammates do not have to share the same screen. You can be on one side of the map and you friend on the complete opposite side. This was necessary to facilitate the Metroid-vania aspects of the game. In most levels you are given an objective – find this, save this person, destroy this, etc. Many times your objectives will be in various parts of the map, which isn’t just a flat surface but will comprise of many floors or basements that you can traverse. You’ll also find that enemies are unlimited, so there is no use trying to clear out a level and then go looking for what you need. Having items spread out made looking for mission items, collectables, and weapons fun, but it also caused issues where one of us would trigger an event, like a pack of mutants jumping out, and the other person wasn’t there to help.
And back to that whole “not sure if they are mutants or not” thing. We found out that in co-op, story elements are removed. If you play the game solo, you will get short cinematics between levels as well as descriptions on enemies; when you play co-op, all that is gone. You are forced to do the tutorial solo, so I did find out that these people were on their way to a high school reunion, but other than that, I have no idea what was happening in the story. I have no idea how we got to certain locations, or why we had to go back. Later in the story new characters started showing up, and we had no idea who they were. It’s not like I was going to play the game for the story, but when two people start shooting beams out of their hands at each other, I would like to know why.
I did enjoy the way the game looked. It gave off a cartoonish Scooby Doo-esque vibe that was driven home by the sound track. Even the enemies looked like something out of a Scooby Doo episode. The game ran smoothly with at least 60fps, and the coloring helps to set that spooky, but not scary vibe that I think they were trying to capture.
Overall, I think Final Exam is a good game. Despite the gripes we had with the story and repetitive enemies, we had a good time playing co-op. The gameplay can get a bit repetitive if you are only looking to bash up enemies, but if you are into getting high scores and combos it should be more than enough to keep you entertained. The game has eight levels that usually take a little under 30 minutes to complete, so there is not a huge time commitment here; especially if you are looking to replay the game for high scores or to max out your characters. With a price point of $9.99 I would say what you get from the game vs. the cost is more than fair.
You can get Final Exam on Steam.