Nightmare Creatures seemingly sets up the basis for a unique Lovecraftian tale set in the 1600's. When you first boot up the game, after the company logos pass, you are treated to a scene of what looks like a turn of the century English alleyway, followed by several monsters from the game coming out of the fog screaming and beating the hell out of each other set to no music. All of this happens behind a text crawl at the bottom of the screen. You play as two separate characters(which the game lets you choose from the start to play as), Ignatius Blackward, a priest that kicks ass for the Lord, and Nadia Franciscus, the daughter of a colleague of Ignatius who vows revenge for the death of his father by the villain of the game, Adam Crowley. Crowley is a disgraced Frankenstein-like doctor who stumbled upon a book of black magic and uses it to conjure up evil demons in order to create a master race and rule the planet. The story set up is really really good, its too bad that the game tells it so poorly.
That opening sequence I mentioned earlier, that was done solely for the N64 version because of the problem the system has with playing full motion video. In the PS1 and PC version, you get an opening cutscene that explains some of what I just said, mostly the Adam Crowley bits. The rest of the game's story unwraps via a text crawl at the end of each level. This is a big problem, especially if you are trying to instill that sense of fear and intrigue that the game is gunning for. Show, don't tell. I know that most people's imagination can create a visual in their head that 1-ups the image presented, but for the sake of pacing and storytelling, having the thing play out to us really helps keep the fear going. And yes, I understand that most people skip the cut scenes anyhow in games, but you know what, I would have humored you on them if they told the story better. The text crawls kill the pacing of the game so much, that I usually just ended up scrolling through them just so I could get the the next level. Had they been cut scenes, I would have stopped to watch them. Supposedly the PS1 and PC versions have more cut scenes that tell the story, but I haven't found any of the footage online. The closest I have found is vague soundbytes at the end of each level by the villain, and captions of text and pictures masking the loading screens for each level. But beyond that, this really hampers what seems like an interesting tale. In fact, I had to go to Wikipedia just to get the backstory on our main characters for the review. From a narrative standpoint, the game cuts itself off at the knees.
But putting that aside, I'm sure you want to know how the gameplay is. And the answer is: really solid. The game is actually more akin to later hack-and-slash titles like Devil May Cry and Onimusha than to Resident Evil. you go around as one of our two main characters (both of which have different weapons, with Ignatius sporting a bo-staff while Nadia brandishes a sword) and brawl your way through areas of lower London against a myriad of demonic enemies that look like they were born The Call of Cthulhu. This game was made in late 1997, still in the pre-Dualshock era of gaming where two analog sticks were from from being a reality. As such, alot of action-adventure titles made due with the Resident Evil/Tomb Raider tank controls we have all been trained to scoff at. Having said that, the gameplay actually works quite well. Your turn radius is actual alot more forgiving than the former titles, allowing you more control in cases like running through tight corridors. Combat also gets the benefit of an auto-targeting feature that snaps you face to face with whatever enemy you are in proximity with, meaning you don't have to fight with the controls in one on one combat. Other useful features include dodge and block buttons as well as a 180 degree quick turn feature. The developers seemingly did all they could with the controls to make the experience as easy as possible. Finally you also get the help of items like mines, dynamite, and guns that can turn the tide of combat in a pinch.
Having said all THAT, there are still some issues. Firstly, while the auto-targeting works great in one-on-one fights, it has its issues when it comes to fights with more than one enemy. As such, sometimes you'll find yourself attacked by enemies off screen that you didn't see coming. Also, because the combat in this game is combo-based, you'll find yourself stuck in a combo animation while an enemy is jumping out of range, leaving you open to attack. And then because of the tech of the N64, there's slowdown issues within combat. All of these issues don't rear their ugly heads alot, but when they do, they can make fights in this game alot harder than necessary. The controls also show their flaws in situations where platforming is needed, although I've heard in this version the platforming was tweaked to be easier, but having not played the other versions, I don't know how or how much. Also worth mentioning is the adrenaline bar, a gameplay element where as you kill enemies, you fill said meter, and so long as you keep the kill rate steady, this meter stays full. Take too much time in a level, and the meter runs out and you die. Thankfully in the N64 version, you have the option to turn it off.
Graphically, the game looks really good, especially on the N64. Having seen gameplay from the PS1 version, that version suffers from pixelation and odd texture warping. this version looks noticeably smoother and doesn't have much if at all texture warping. There is that issue that most N64 games have with draw distance and "N64 fog" but judging by the footage I saw, the other versions didn't have strong draw distances. I actually like that, I think it adds to the creepiness and mood. The levels themselves are creepy and moody in design, with alot of them taking place on the streets that look like they were ripped right out of Jekyll and Hyde, only dirty and grungy. Monster designs are fine, although most of them do boil down to the same handful of enemies you see in that opening video. Levels themselves are fairly linear, with a few branching paths here and there, though not so far considering the adrenaline element would defeat the purpose.
Once again, we find ourselves in the "mind numbing yet satisfying" category of games. Even after all the faults I have listed, this is another game that I had alot of fun with. Its good old fashioned hack and slashing in a time when the genre really hadn't established itself. I think thats one of the reasons why I like it so much. It really does stand out as its own thing in the pre-Devil May Cry world. The overall experience may not leave you with much lasting sustenance in terms of gameplay or story depth unless you're willing to take the time to dig a little deeper. But for all its faults, its a fun game to pop in and pass the time. If you need more of an action fix for your N64, or really just want a game that will complement your copy of Resident Evil 2, you really cant go wrong with Nightmare Creatures.