Added to the lair: 3/20/21
A bloody good time in jolly old London
I seem to be in a horror mood lately. I suppose it's not unreasonable to assume the current state of events would put me in a morbid state of mind, but even outside of that context I've always had an affinity for the genre both in games and film. Nightmare Creatures certainly isn't the scariest game on the block, but it is a pretty good one.
I recall some of the advertisements for Nightmare Creatures being a little bit controversial at the time as it was fairly violent by the day's standards. This is pretty amusing in retrospect since it would be considered relatively tame today. It does have some nice bloody dismemberment which was relatively rare in 1997, though we also saw this in Chasm: The Rift released that same year.
The game takes place in 1800s London where nasty ne'er-do-well Adam Crowley has a released a hideous hoard of - you guessed it - nightmare creatures! It's up to you to track Crowley down and stop his evil scheme to take over the world; with no shortage of spooky monstrosities for you to eviscerate along the way. It's a very basic setup but it serves its purpose.
You choose either the staff-wielding Ignatius or the sword-touting Nadia who, to the game's credit, actually feel fairly different to play. Ignatius is slower and heavier-hitting, whereas Nadia is much more nimble, and they have completely different move-sets. That in and of itself might come as a bit of a surprise - this isn't just a button-masher (although you can get away with a fair bit of that), there are actually different combos or special inputs that you can use to use different moves. Some of these special moves are more situational, but they can be very powerful when used appropriately. That said, if you opt to use something simple that you find works well for you, you can more than likely fall back on that in most situations. I preferred Nadia out of the two as her extra speed just made her more enjoyable to play for me, and she has some simple combos that are pretty effective. The combat itself is actually pretty enjoyable and has a fair amount of depth if you choose to dig into it. There are a lot of items to pickup (and find in hidden places) that are very useful in combat as well.
Something that the game really nails is atmosphere. As I've said before, this is something that I'm kindof a sucker for - good atmosphere goes a long way with me, and can turn an average game into a good one and a good one into a great one. While the game has its flaws, this will more than likely be your takeaway as one of its best assets. From the creepy, rain-drenched, lamp-lit streets of London to some of the more exotic locales it just oozes this wonderfully menacing vibe.
Contributing to this is some pretty great ambient music that really helps set the mood. Some of it is a little on the repetitive side but it does fit the tone they're going for very well. The sound effects don't fare quite as well. I would say they're serviceable but there's a fair bit of stuff that just sounds fairly generic.
Probably the single largest source of frustration and deaths in the game is the platforming. There are some moments where you have to do some fairly precise jumping with instant deaths if you fail, which might not be too bad were it not for the fact that the jumping just feels pretty imprecise and unfit for the job. There were a few occasions where I found myself doing really well on a level and then suddenly dying multiple times in a row from failed platforming.
To complicate this you have a finite number of lives, though you'll find more as you explore the levels. The very idea of limited lives is considered fairly archaic today, but was still the norm for many games in 1997. The good news is you can save after completing a level, and this includes all the lives and items that you have at the time. What this ends up amounting to is you'll more than likely play through a level several times until you're sufficiently adept at it, and then keeping your best result. There are multiple save slots so you can always save the game after completing a level and then go back to the previous save to replay the level in an attempt to get a better outcome. I found myself doing this repeatedly as I played through the game. Initially I struggled to complete some levels without losing nearly all my lives but after playing through it several times I knew what to expect - where all the enemies were, where I needed to go, where the items were, etc. - and could get through them with relative ease. It's creates a bit of a weird "game flow" but you get used to it.
It should probably be mentioned that the game has a bit of a time-limit in the form of an "adrenaline meter". The story justifies this by claiming that adrenaline is the only way to fight off the virus that's turning the city into monsters which is... a little silly but whatever. It refills each time you kill an enemy and to be honest I didn't find it to be as much of a nuisance as you might expect, and I tend to hate time-limits more than anyone. I think it's really just there to keep you from going over every nook and cranny with a fine tooth comb to find secrets at a leisurely pace. I almost never found myself dying to this other than on rare occasions where I ended up lost (usually on my first attempt at a level). It certainly shouldn't be enough to put you off the game, even if you hate time-limits (because I definitely do).
The level design is actually pretty excellent. There are a lot of secrets to find hidden throughout the levels, some of which can really make a big difference in your success, with things like weapon upgrades and extra lives. The level completion screen shows the percentage of enemies you killed and items you found ala Doom and you'll more than likely see these below 100% on most levels until you really know them inside and out.
I really enjoyed my time with Nightmare Creatures. I wish the platforming wasn't quite as frustrating and I probably could have done without the lives system but it certainly makes up for it in atmosphere, music, level design, and combat. Check it out!