Retro Review: Nightmare Creatures

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By Josh Nichols on May 25th, 2021

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Nightmare Creatures has the atmosphere of Bloodborne with the hack-and-slash action of Medievil, which is such a fun combination. Grotesque and horrifying monsters parade around the streets of 19th century London with lightning and fog flickering in the darkness, sometimes illuminated by nearby lamps piercing through the shadows. Nightmare Creatures is bleeding with an atmosphere that’s as fun as it is scary. The 3D technology is especially impressive considering the game released in 1997, which was before games like Resident Evil 2 and Ocarina of Time were unleashed on the world. Nightmare Creatures embraced the limited 3D draw distance of the time to create a claustrophobic and low-poly nightmare, while also providing players with the means to vanquish the otherworldly creatures — if they dared push forward into the night.

Creature Feature

London is under attack by deranged demons on account of the evil Adam Crowley, who plans on taking over the city before setting his sights on the rest of the world. The brotherhood he’s a part of has been experiencing infighting though and so there are clues on his location scattered throughout the city. Levels are disgusting and the lighting helps add to the fear. Once you’re reasonably close to enemies, you can see them without any issues but almost being able to make out something in the distance can raise the hair on the back of your neck. Sometimes not knowing but wondering is scarier than knowing for sure what you’re about to confront. The game blends this balance really well throughout the experience.

Twenty-one different kinds of creatures are lurking throughout the city that Ignatius Blackward and Nadia Franciscus must deal with while searching for clues to locate and destroy Crowley. There’s a lot going on with the antagonist’s backstory and motivations; he’s working with a devil-worshiping cult called the Brotherhood of Hecate. Back in 1666, the cult developed a potion that was supposed to give them superhuman powers but instead created nightmare creatures. Now it’s 1834 and there are sightings of monsters and dead people walking around the city, which is now in a panicked frenzy with little hope in sight.

Despite the limited technology of the time, monsters look absolutely horrifying even considering how much time has passed since Nightmare Creatures released. Demon dogs, living gargoyle statues, and giant spider monsters are just a few examples of the horrors hiding and ready to kill throughout London. Enemies feature long and misshapen limbs with grotesque features and they typically make their approach in a way that will strike fear into players for at least the first few encounters. The gameplay may be hack-and-slash but the atmosphere and setting will make you stab and gasp, all while keeping your nerves up as you battle your way through levels.

Image via GamePro

At the start of the game, you’re able to choose which character you play as; Ignatius Blackward is a priest and occult expert with a long, wooden fighting staff. Nadia Franciscus is the daughter of a doctor and skilled with a sword. The game itself is the same regardless of the selected character but they do play a bit differently. Nadia is quite capable in combat but is much more agile than the older priest. Blackward may be slower but he’s stronger in combat. Battling against the hellish creatures and more capable bosses is blended with light puzzle work and exploration. It’s a well-rounded experience set within a compelling and mysterious world. Nightmare Creatures is a nightmare from the onset but Ignatius and Nadia can make it through to the end and save everyone as long as you’re willing to fight back and keep moving.

Gotta Go Fast

Gameplay is straightforward despite being difficult at times. There’s a Health Meter and an Adrenaline Meter and both need to be managed effectively. The Health Meter is simple; it goes down when you’re hit and you die when it’s empty. You can replenish it with items and it increases as you progress in the game. Crowley’s virus will kill you if it overtakes you but keeping your adrenaline up will prevent that from happening. It works as an antidote as long as you have some adrenaline moving around in your system. If it reaches zero then your health will start to deplete and you’ll quickly die. Fighting enemies refills the meter though which is great news since there are monsters crawling, flying, and lurking everywhere. Take your pick and murder some monsters to stay alive. It’s worth mentioning too that fighting refills it and not killing monsters so it will start to refill as long you start engaging in combat. You won’t run into a situation where you were about to kill a monster but your adrenaline depleted before delivering the final blow.

Most of the game’s areas aren’t too big but it doesn’t do you any good to just run through areas as quickly as you can. Avoiding enemies will cause your demise just as quickly as falling in combat. You need to strike a balance between puzzle solving, exploration, and murdering monsters to keep death away while progressing to the next level.

You can button mash if you’d like but the game has some combo attacks that add variety while also dealing more damage. More combo movesets become available as you continue through the game but they’re available right away if you already know them. In addition to the special moves, you also have standard melee attacks and some special items that are littered throughout the game. Special items include weapons like dynamite, powerful spells, and guns, which can deal more damage, restore health, or give you other tools to use in battle. There are also a few weapon upgrades that either increase your capabilities or make weapons more powerful. It’s hard to overstate just how comprehensive the combat systems are in this game, not only for a hack-and-slash title but especially for releasing in ’97. The camera is probably the game’s biggest flaw but that’s also a pretty big part of the era. 3D games hadn’t completely figured out cameras yet. It works well enough but you’ll also be fighting against it while battling enemies sometimes too.

Image via Activision

The story is primarily told through cutscenes and loading screens, which are only completely available on the PlayStation and PC versions of the game; the Nintendo 64 version features some of the story content but it isn’t all there. It’s not that simple picking which version to play through. The N64 version features sharper visuals so the game will look more crisp and feature a little more detail. I’d recommend either playing the PlayStation/PC version first and then doing future replays on the N64 version or just not worrying about the story much and diving straight into the N64 version. It’s not a bad story but it’s just not really the focus. You need a reason to fight hair-raising monsters while running through bloodcurdling districts. The story gives reasons for the monsters, puts some tougher ones throughout, and then has the culprit responsible for the entire calamity at the end of it all. It’s like a slightly more detailed Mario story to be honest, which is totally fine because the title conveys what’s most important: the nightmare and the creatures.

Hell’s Bells

The game could have gotten away with having little to no music with how horrific the visuals are but the world sounds just as eerie as it looks. The game’s music is creepy and adds to the isolation and otherworldliness. There are also rock-inspired riffs that add to the game’s heavy metal flavor. All of the music is really great though and it makes the game’s story and setting feel heavier while also adding to player immersion. It’s one of those soundtracks I found myself listening to long after finishing the game because of how good it is. The combat noises add some weight to fighting and make the stakes feel more real. The hack-and-slash noises play over the top of the groans and moans of enemies, which are creepy and reflect the damage being done to them. Hearing them respond to your attacks fills in the final connection between you and the world. Nightmare Creatures has detail in every corner and crevice to enrich the experience as a whole.

Image via Activision

The Bloodborne comparison works for describing the game’s setting and atmosphere but Medievil is a much better way to describe its somewhat limited appeal and gameplay style, especially given how far camera controls and gameplay have evolved in the years since. Nightmare Creatures does a lot of things very well but it’s also been over twenty years since it came out. Games are built with technology that’s constantly turning ceilings into foundations, as both the medium and tech continue to improve together. A camera that’s simultaneously too loose and too tight could really ruin the experience for some players, especially anyone who started playing games on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Dreamcast, and/or Xbox; developers really locked down better camera controls a few years after Nightmare Creatures released and even if just this one thing were better, the game would be greatly improved.

The game is also pretty difficult, especially compared to most other hack-and-slash games. Standard combat can get pretty frustrating as more enemies show up but there are also some later battles with more difficult boss-style enemies that were pretty tough for me to defeat. If you’re able to overlook early 3D camera problems in environments that are already tight and cramped at times and don’t mind some difficult sections then I think you could still have a great time with Nightmare Creatures. There’s a fun story nestled between creepy and campy that’s filled with satisfying combat set amidst a creepy, mysterious, and exciting setting.

Image via GamePro

The sequel, Nightmare Creatures II, came out a few years later. It’s not better than the first game and received poor reviews from critics at the time as well. There’s no refinement or improvements thrown over the first game’s foundation. The first game is the best way to explore this gothic world but maybe there’s a chance for a remaster with improved controls or a full-on remake with the renewed interest in the setting and aesthetic from Bloodborne and games it inspired. I don’t know where the rights and IP ownership landed after the developer, Kalisto Entertainment, declared bankruptcy in 2002. They’re out there somewhere though and we’ve all witnessed the power of nostalgia with ports, remasters, and remakes from dormant franchises. If anyone is able to resurrect this title then maybe they can help convince Nintendo to re-release or remake Eternal Darkness too. Old horror games are so rad and the limited technology usually just adds to the horror.

Spooky Hack-and-slash

Nightmare Creatures may be a beautiful, gothic relic from the past but it is still over twenty years old. Its mechanics and structure have aged over the years but it’s an essential experience for anyone nostalgic for some low-poly horror and gothic soundscapes sweeping throughout the game. The monsters of the game are designed so well that I wasn’t usually frustrated when I died. I was mesmerized by the world and whatever creature massacred my character. The camera is a bit rough but it works well enough and the game controls really well outside of that too. It isn’t a perfect game and has flaws but it’s fun, exciting, scary, and a thrill to play. I didn’t even mind the difficulty spikes that happened occasionally because they usually made sense due to a story point or just from it being a mini-boss that was supposed to be a little overpowered.

At the time of writing, Nightmare Creatures can be easily found and purchased from online resellers like eBay at a cost of $30 to $50. It depends what system you’re looking for and if you want a complete copy or not but I think that’s definitely a fair price for such a cool part of 3D video game history and the early 3D horror genre as a whole. It’s also considered Abandonware on PC so it’s uh, a little easier to play but still in a legal gray area. However you choose to play it, it’s worth playing if you’re into hack-and-slash games, interested in horror, or just looking for something from another world. There are also cheat codes for the game that can enrich the experience and deliver an emergency dose of nostalgia. I miss when cheat codes were just part of every game. You’ll probably end up needing them too as the game’s horrors come crawling from out of the shadows and make their way to you.

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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