Nightshade Download (1992 Adventure Game)

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As with most games that rely more on mind than might, the fighting sequences in Nightshade are the weakest part of the game. Nightshade jumps awkwardly, the sound effects of the punches connecting are weak, and the limited number of fighting moves are unimaginative. But fighting is not the reason to play this kind of game. In fact, the action sequences in Nightshade aren't really even necessary, except to rest your brain for a second or two. Sort of an interactive mystery novel, the fun of this game lies in detecting clues, trying different tactics, and finding uses for the many items you will find. The fun begins right away. You start the game tied to a chair and you must scoot backwards until the rope wrapped around your hands touches the flame of a candle, thus freeing you to fight crime. The solutions to your problems are rarely this simple. This challenging game will keep your brain on its toes.

One striking thing about this game is its self-deprecating sense of humor and its nifty storyline. While some may find these things frivolous, most will appreciate the extra effort. For example, Nightshade is equipped with a popularity gauge. Every time he successfully does something heroic, his ratings go up, increasing the likelyhood that a citizen will cooperate with him when confronted. But if Nightshade fails at a particular task, his ratings plummet. This is a not so subtle (yet effective) spoof on the fickleness of humankind and the way we treat our heroes. While I rarely read this much philosophy into a simple NES video game, Nightshade is a pretty clever game, so it lends itself to this type of scrutiny.

Dark streets, back alleys, sewers, museums, and other staples of big city life make up the handsome visuals of this game, giving it a film-noirish look. The sound effects are pretty average for the NES, maybe a tad below, and the character movement is kind of sluggish. The biggest gripe I have with this game is that things happen too slowly. Nightshade walks at a far too leisurely pace and when he executes a successful maneuver, sometimes it takes too long for the game to move on to the next scene. Also, the learning curve is kind of steep. You can be completely stumped very early in the game.

Overall, this is a pretty nice effort and an enjoyable contest for the patient gamer who enjoys deductive reasoning and who also happens to have a broad-ranged sense of humor.

Graphics: The visuals in this game successfully portray night life in the crime-infested big city.

Sound: The music fits the theme of this game nicely. The sound effects are adequate.

Enjoyment: Amateur sleuths and psuedo superheroes everywhere will enjoy this game.

Replay Value: There are plenty of clues to solve but repeating earlier levels gets old pretty fast.

Not to be confused with an isometric game of the same name for the Spectrum ZX computer, Nightshade is a highly underrated NES game from Beam Software/Konami (published under its Ultra Games label). The reason Nightshade wasn't a commercial success is probably at least partly due to the fact that it's not a typical console fare - the game is a graphic adventure a la classic Sierra/LucasArts games, with some action elements thrown in. This means action gamers who expect another fast and furious platformer will be disappointed, and graphical adventure fans would pass this one by, mistaking it for another console-style action game.

The game's setting and storyline are remarkably similar to Batman's Gotham city. You are Nightshade, a mysterious superhero wannabe clad in a raincoat and fedora, on a quest to bring the evil Sutekh to justice for killing Vortex, the town's resident superhero. Sutekh is planning to obtain the 4 artifacts of power which would give him the power to (of course) control the world, and is accumulating a huge gang of super-villains for this purpose. The game begins after you get captured by Sutekh, tied to a chair with a bomb underneath. After you manage to escape, the real game begins.

Similar to classic LucasArts adventures, you will spend most of your time in Nightshade exploring the city, talking to NPCs, and solving puzzles. The interface is much better than the point-and-click interface of Maniac Mansion - because while it's very easy to point-and-click with your mouse on PC, on the console gamepad it's troublesome. Nightshade solves the problem quite elegantly by using a menu-based system. Pressing the SELECT button brings up the action menu, from which you can select verbs like use, examine, take, talk, etc. When you come across an enemy, the game shifts to a 2D fighting mode, where you can jump, punch, and kick your way through.

The game has many nice and unique gameplay elements. For starter, you don't start out being a famous superhero - you have to work your way towards that, by gaining popularity. The more heroic deeds you perform, the more will your Popularity Meter rise, and the more superhero abilities will you gain. Likewise, your popularity will drop if you fail in these tasks. Popularity is integral to the story, because some people won't talk to you until you are popular enough. You start by performing such mundane tasks as rescuing lost kittens, but you will soon get to rescuing maidens from burning buildings (in an obvious spoof of King Kong), and more heroic deeds. Once you get popular enough, you can take on Sutekh's Super Villain henchmen. Each time you defeat one of these, you will collect a Scarab Key. Once all the Scarab Keys have been obtained, you will be able to infiltrate Sutekh's underground lair for the final showdown.

In addition to adventure and 2D action modes, Nightshade is also notable for another unique feature: the "escape from death" mode. Whenever you run out of health, you will get captured by Sutekh. He will then put you in various imaginative machines of death; for example, tied to a conveyor belt that's moving towards a masher. You have to think and act fast to escape from these situations. Each time you get captured, you will face a new challenge. If you get captured for the fourth time, you will be killed without reprieve. Because you can't save in this game (although you can "cheat" by using the emulator's excellent "save state" feature), it means you have three chances to beat the game. These deathtrap situations are always interesting and challenging, requiring both reflexes and quick wit.

The game is memorable not only for its unique gameplay, but also a lot of wacky over-the-top NPCs and fun dialogue between Nightshade and various villains that are reminiscent of Dick Tracy and other campy crime comics. It's much better written than an average awful Japanese-to-English games, too. Overall, if you ever wonder if there's any good adventure game on the NES besides Déjà vu and Shadowgate, Nightshade is a good answer. It's not as good as the best adventure classics on the PC, but it's a lot of fun while it lasts - and the ability to save the game state on all NES emulators for PC makes for a much less frustrating experience.


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