Source: Review Copy
Where To Get It: Steam
Superhero(in)es are, as has often been proven, less powerful without folks who support them. Without Alfred, the Bat Family, and, of course, Ace, Bruce Wayne would have had a much harder time of things, possibly an impossible one (not to mention the many other folks who helped over the years.) And not all of them are in glorious roles. Mo Schreibnitz, for example, is… taxi driver to The Shadow.
In this particular case, you are a delivery driver, getting items to a superhero who… Regularly forgets them. No, really, the conceit is that he’s forgotten something vital to beating a villain, somehow, and you are meant to deliver it to him. In a very real way, you’re keeping this hero afloat in the business. By driving in a horizontal, 2D environment made of lakes, hills, valleys and assorted other obstacles and physicsy things, trying to get to the end by accelerating, slowing down, reversing, and tilting your vehicle to make sure it doesn’t explode.
And I think my main problem with this game is that, from the beginning, it’s a tough job. Trials eased you in. Heck, most games of this genre ease you in. But nope, from the outset, the level you start in is loooong. While there are vehicle upgrades, on that old “Each level is more expensive than the last” deal… This isn’t as helpful as, say… Designing the levels around a vehicle? Because, of course, the faster your engine is, the more airtime you get, the more traction you have on surfaces… This adds to what already happens in such games, where a slightly different landing or jump snowballs into changes down the line. Also, a more powerful engine might let you clear a jump more easily… Or it might mean that reversing to get a better run up is too effective, and you fall down a ramp that was going to make you too slow to make that jump in the first place.
It makes less sense that some of the other tracks seem shorter, so… Should be first, right? Well… No, they all have problems. Not least because they’re all different vehicles. Normally, I would say “Oh, great, different challenges, cool!” … But they have little dirty tricks. For example, in the Mamba stage, there are big hills. Big hills, and your allegedly off-road beast… Can’t handle them without upgrades. There are power ups that help… Well, a jump that is sometimes useful, and a cleaning spray that’s only good for if you’ve been hit with rubbish… But mostly, this appears to be a case of “Awww, sorry buddy, only folks with Traction this high can enter!”
It is, aesthetically, pretty nice. The music’s good, the tracks clearly signpost what’s bad and what isn’t, what things do make sense, and the hero is rightly portrayed as a berk (Although that he’s a dumpy man is… I don’t know how to feel about that, honestly, and that yes, there’s a stereotypical “Voodoo Queen” villain is… Ehhhhh….) But in terms of play, while I’m sure fans of the harder games of this genre may enjoy it, it’s definitely not a great introduction to such games (Which, to be fair, are often frustrating whether they tutorialise or not. But still…)
As The Mad Welshman is a villain, well… You can guess who he’s rooting for, even if his pride won’t let him lose this damn thing again.
Where To Get It: Steam
1992 was in a period of interesting experimentation in video-games. Not a whole lot was pinned down, and the hardware limited things in oft frustrating ways, so cool, yet clunky solutions were found… And not all of the lessons of these past games have been relearned. Nightshade is, I’m going to get this out of the way now, a difficult, and occasionally frustrating experience. It’s an adventure game that was on the NES, for a start, with action elements. And yet, now that it’s been re-released in emulated form by Piko Interactive, it’s somewhat easy to see why it was picked.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this game definitely has some annoyances. Fights, for example, are pretty gimmicky, fairly common, and are going to be the biggest source of game overs. More than other adventure games, the advice “Save early, save often” works pretty well. Select lets you choose what you want to do in adventure mode (Also pausing while this happens, which can buy you some time when a hostile is nearby), although you have to be close to objects to interact with them, and while the main character and world are well sprited, the other portraits are… Well, they clash, quite a bit.
Anyway, those aside, let’s talk the interesting things. First up, this is an action-adventure game, on the NES, in 1992. The select-action thing gets around a lot of the potential problems this could have caused, and the writing, while a little odd in places, generally has a light, humorous tone. The story’s a little hammy, but then, it’s a pulp superhero story, where a librarian becomes a trenchcoated crusader after the previous hero (Vortex, a proper cape) was captured and murdered by Sutekh, egyptian themed crimelord. Equally unfortunately, the game starts with your capture. Whatever will Lampsha- er, Nightshade do?
Funnily enough, this is a good tone-setter, as it’s a scenario many a pulpy hero has faced. Tied to a chair, bomb, candle, wall nearby… All the elements are there, and if you happen to “die”, well, the other clever thing about the game comes in: Lives are replaced by similar escape sequences to this, as Sutekh is the gloaty, easily-escapable deathtrap type. I mean, he learns from his mistakes, and the deathtraps escalate in difficulty until the fifth one is impossible to escape, but… I actually kinda like this. Suitably villainous, one might say.
Now, the important question here is “Is Nightshade any good?” , and the answer is “If you are somewhat used to how old adventure games pull things, yes, it’s definitely interesting. Or if you remember that this is emulated, and that save-states will allow you to explore without so much frustration, sure.” It’s an interesting look at how console obstacles for adventure gaming were gotten around (and, honestly, the villainous deathtrap/lives thing is a choice I’d like to see more in media involving supervillains), it isn’t, as far as 90s games go, unresponsive or bad, and £4 for trying a mostly forgotten, and interesting piece of gamedev history is not a bad price at all.
Nightshade isn’t one of those forever-classics. But it’s definitely worth a look.
The Mad Welshman, you may have noted, appreciates experimentation. And the 90s is a treasure trove of it.