(Activision for the Nintendo 64)
by Eric Johnson
Pre-Victorian London: the largest, richest, and dirtiest city on Earth is being over taken by a grotesque army of nameless monstrosities. Creatures brought to life by a mysterious cabal of Masonic Madmen known as the Brotherhood of Hecate. Wielding his trusty cudgel, a lone priest teams up with the daughter of a murdered colleague to track down Adam Crowley, leader of the brotherhood, and put an end to a horror three centuries old. I can’t help but love Nightmare Creatures. It has the most engrossing setting I’ve ever seen, the plot plays off a major historical event, and the action involves a priest kicking the crap out of zombies, werewolves, gigantic cockroaches, immense rats, and the occasional hellhound. Initially released almost two years ago for the Playstation, this title has been drastically improved for release on the Nintendo 64. Someone did their homework and recreated 19th Century London with such meticulous attention to detail that the murky alcoves and cobblestone streets are worth the price of the rental alone. Sights and sounds conspire to create a terribly discomforting and occasionally very frightening experience few titles have attempted to create. Unfortunately, this game suffers from grave, player-alienating flaws which must be understood before an impulse purchase can be recommended.
Foremost among the problems are the exceptionally tricky controls, which, while not incomprehensible, do make facing an opponent a challenge in itself and the occasionally confusing camera angles do nothing to remedy this condition. In addition, although greatly reduced from the original, the game is chock full of cheap deaths; many a great performance can be ruined when a simple miscalculation results in a dramatic drowning. Except for the final showdown with Crowley, the boss levels are thankfully rare, since they are badly designed and annoying. One completely baffling feature is the “Adrenaline Meter,” a blue line which steadily decreases as you move around. The only way to fill it is to kill a creature, and if it empties you become vulnerable to Crowley’s plague and lose energy until you die. Fortunately, this version allows the option of turning off this feature, since it effectively ruins the game by making level exploration nearly impossible.
Nightmare Creatures is essentially a three-dimensional fighting/adventure game, combining elements of Tekken and Tomb Raider. Puzzle-solving is restricted to a series of switches unlocking obscured catacombs that hide weapon upgrades and other goodies. Some of these nooks are the coolest parts of the game. Potential monotony is diffused by almost two dozen combo moves for each character and the deliciously excessive use of severed limbs; damage to each appendage is taken into account and a gruesome beheading or bisection can result from a rousing attack. Rather than blindly charging the strangely intelligent monsters, sneak around corners and lie in wait, springing out at the worst possible moment. It evokes that genuinely startling sensation moviemakers lost the art of some time ago. In addition, most of the fiends parry, counterattack, feint, and out-flank you with such rapidity that even the more feeble enemies pose a serious threat. Overall, an excellent hybrid between two radically different game genres.
As the first purely horror-oriented title for the 64, Nightmare Creatures is a mandatory rental and a good purchase if its problems can be overcome. It is superior to the original in every way except for the disappointing omission of an amazingly eerie opening movie, and the exceptional Crowley voice-over has been replaced by scrolling text. The improved graphics, more engrossing game play, and improved level design are a giant step closer to classic-ville. It’s a wonderfully thick slice of Lovecraftian menace, and a real standout on a system overpopulated by titles carefully groomed for universal appeal.