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Nightmare Creatures!

Hey all,

Ok, I know this game is somewhat aged, but Kalisto Entertainment's Nightmare Creatures originally came out for the PlayStation around Halloween of '97. The game received high marks for atmosphere and design, but its overall score was brought down by control issues, a weak combo system, and occasional perspective problems. Now, a year later, Nightmare Creatures has come to the Nintendo 64, and while it's an almost identical game, the developers have gladly used that time to correct some of the title's flaws.

Nightmare Creatures sees 19th century London threatened by an onrush of gruesome beasts brought forth by the evil Adam Crowley (sort of a mix of the 1920s "wickedest man in the world" Aleister Crowley and The Muppet Show's Animal) and his sinister cult, the Brotherhood of Hecate. It's your job to wipe out these most unholiest of unholies and their master - either as the young American swordswoman Nadia or Ignatius, the ass-kicking monk.

While Nightmare Creatures has been likened to a hybrid of Eidos' Tomb Raider and Capcom's Resident Evil, that's not an entirely accurate analogy. The title takes place in a spooky 3D world that you view from a behind-the-back perspective; and that's where any comparison to either of the games pretty much stops. The game runs at a jaunty 30+ frames per second with up to four monsters simultaneously onscreen and with little or no slowdown. The graphics appear much crisper in the Nintendo 64 version, and the fog effects seen in the original look even more impressive here (the N64 can do fog in its sleep, which we've all learned almost ad nauseam).

But catacombs and cesspools aside, the real mood setters are the monsters. You'll encounter 15 distinct types of creatures (ranging from zombies to giant spiders, dog-sized rats to werewolves, hellhounds to harpies, and three-headed ogres to flaming imps) and five different bosses, such as the Yeti, a four-headed fire-breathing serpent, and old Crowley himself. All the beasts have distinct powers and attack styles, making them quite a caliginous handful when an unpredictable, varied group pounces on your character all at once.

To combat these nasties, the characters are each equipped with a rudimentary sword or staff, which can eventually be upgraded to more lethal devices such as spiked clubs, double axes, and machetes. Beyond the basic wherewithal to attack these monsters in the first place, you also have a variety of fighting moves at your disposal. Additionally, there are quite a few power-ups to be found, such as single-shot and burst pistols, half and full healths, mines, fire bombs, and freeze and confusion spells. Besides the proficiency of the enemy creatures, there's an ever-dwindling adrenaline bar, which measures the amount of the natural stimulant in your system that must remain full to keep a Crowley-concocted poison from killing you. You can keep your adrenaline high only by continuously seeking out and winning battles.

And fighting the creatures can be a lot of fun, at least early on. They're very well designed, and their animations give them an eerie sense of life - and power-ups such as the razor (which lets you slice them in half or quarters) are quite a kick. In fact, you can lop off the monsters' heads, and their bodies will often still chase after you. The problem here is that the fighting system is still fairly basic. While there are many moves for your character to use, they're very difficult to pull off, and many of them leave you open to attack afterwards. This causes you to quickly adopt a strategy of navigating creatures into corners and mashing on the buttons (triple pushes on A or B and going back and forth between them are actually some of the basic combos). The game is still fun, but having to use the same moves throughout gets a little old, though admittedly the different power-ups and new kinds of monsters keep it from getting totally dull.

One of the game's noticeable improvements however is the control. To begin with, the N64 controller handles the setup much more elegantly than the old-edition PlayStation pad, and the analog control is a dream. But the real design improvement is that during combat, the character is aimed at the monster he's battling. If he sidesteps, he's still focused on the creature. This can be a little problematic when you're trying to avoid a fight, though it's helpful enough during a fight to not be an issue. Not having camera control is still very frustrating during the boss stages (during the Yeti encounter, for instance, you have to line up just right to pick up items that are offscreen), but it doesn't really come up otherwise.

Another nice touch to the game is that the designers tweaked the sewer stage to be much easier to navigate. In the original, you had to complete a number of difficult running jumps while avoiding/fighting several large, poly-tentacled monsters and not falling into the deadly water. The area now has a series of connected catwalks to run through - albeit with a few jumps - so the level is consequently much more enjoyable. Additionally, the having-to-keep-on-fighting-to-keep-your-adrenaline-going aspect seems to be less of a problem. Perhaps the creators have added or moved the enemies around so that you can recharge easier and thus explore the environment better.

It's really great to see a port of a game not make all the mistakes the original did, and it makes the title much easier to recommend. Nightmare Creatures still isn't a perfect game, but it now has enough going for it to be worth the time it takes to explore its dark, spooky world.

Keep it real.....
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