Developer: Beam Software
Released: January 1992
US Cartridge ID: NES-8Y-USA
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 4 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (256k PRG, 256k CHR)
Metro City, after decades of prosperity and growth, has fallen into a state of decline. Crime rates and corruption are at an all time high, and a mysterious figure, Sutekh, unifies all of the local crime lords under his banner in a push to gain control of the city. With the people terrified and the police ineffective, it’s clear that extreme measures are necessary. Vortex, a would-be superhero, steps forth as the people’s defender of justice, and garners widespread recognition and appreciation. He’s success is cut short, however, as he is summarily murdered in a brawl. Mark Gray, staunch supporter and fan of Vortex, realizes the need for a successor, and donning a fedora, trench coat, and sunglasses, hits the streets of Metro City.
Nightshade plays similarly to mouse-driven PC adventures (particularly those by Sierra-Online and Lucasarts), requiring that the player navigates Nightshade around the city, looking for people to speak with while picking up potentially useful items. Through a standard adventure game “verb list,” Nightshade interacts with his environment via icon options like “Examine,” “Pick Up,” and “Talk,” and can access his inventory at anytime to view carried items that will be needed to solve puzzles. Occasionally, Nightshade will encounter a member of the enemy gang, prompting a transition into the battle mode. Fighting takes place from a 2D side-view perspective, and using a combination of punches and kicks, requires that Nightshade overcomes his foe before moving onward.
Heavily loaded with text, Nightshade‘s verbosity is one of its greatest assets. Reading like a 1930’s detective novel, cheesy humor is rife throughout, giving the game a much more light-hearted feeling than one would expect considering the subject matter. Nightshade himself will offer his thoughts on several occasions, and his flippant assessments of the predicaments he finds himself in make him an extraordinarily likable character. The text is also usually slanted in such a way that it emphasizes what the next correct course of action is, rewarding those who carefully consider the prose, and punishing those who scroll through it as fast as they can to avoid reading it.
In addition to solving puzzles, Nightshade must also develop his reputation as a superhero. There is a popularity gauge that assesses the public opinion of Nightshade’s performance. If he saves an old helpless man being beaten by a female ninja, his popularity rises; if he pulls a ladder out from under a workman, it’ll drop. Nightshade’s popularity decides how people react to him, and how much information they’ll willingly provide.
Nightshade‘s graphics set an appropriately moody tone, and carry a heavy Egyptian influence (Suketh, for instance, is another name for the Egyptian god Set, famous for his act of fratricide and his iconic headdress). They are dark but detailed, and necessary objects stand out against the backgrounds. The music is good, but inappropriately upbeat for the setting, as if was meant to mirror Nightshade’s personality rather than the onscreen events.
The balanced difficulty of the puzzles is a credit to the designers: they are difficult but fair, and all of the puzzles are logical, provided the player has carefully examined each scene and paid attention to Nightshade’s observations. The interface, however, is clunky, unintuitive, and hinders the player at every possible step. Though the NES controller is hardly ideal for graphic adventures, this game was developed exclusively for the 8-bit machine, making one question the purpose behind such a cumbersome control scheme.
Control is also an issue in the poorly executed battle scenes: Because the controls lack responsiveness, the typical method of play is to frantically smash buttons, making Nightshade flail his fists and feet ineffectively at his opponents. Making matters worse, if Nightshade becomes trapped in a corner, the enemy will easily block his escape and kill him. The lack of passwords or a save feature compound this issue (especially considering the length and difficulty of the final boss battle), and forces the player to complete the entire lengthy adventure in one sitting.
It’s unfortunate that control issues and the lack of a save feature so badly mar what is otherwise an excellent title. As it stands, Nightshade is a severely flawed yet highly engaging piece of interactive fiction.
|Nightshade Part 1: The Claws of Sutekh