Review by Bouchart

Reviewed: 01/23/17

A great adventure game, if you can handle the combat

Nightshade is an excellent point and click style adventure game that is encumbered with a clunky and difficult combat system. While the full title is Nightshade Part One: The Claws of Sutekh, there were never any sequels made. It is also unusual in that while most adventure games on the NES were ports from the Apple II or DOS computer systems, but Nightshade is exclusive to the NES.

The introduction explains that in Metro City, there was a superhero named Vortex who was captured and killed. Crime spiraled out of control thanks to the Egyptian-themed supervillain, Sutekh. A man who calls himself Nightshade styles himself as Vortex’s successor and goes off to fight Sutekh to stop the crime wave. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out too well; Nightshade is captured somehow. The game begins with Nightshade in an underground lair, tied to a chair with a lit bomb ready to explode.

It takes a little time to get used to the control scheme but it works fairly well. Normally the directional pad moves Nightshade around. The Select button brings up a menu. If the player wants to examine, pick up, or interact with an object or character in the environment the game pauses and the player can move a reticule around on the screen to do so. The player can also examine or use items carried in the inventory, talk to characters, or jump at certain places.

The game doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and has the style of a campy comic book or action show. Descriptions of objects are often silly or ridiculous, such as that of the crowbar item found early on in the game, which has a love note etched on to it. Common enemies include British gentlemen, ninja women, rat-people and mummies, all sprinkled throughout Metro City. Seagulls warn about eating frozen squid, and Nightshade says that a cat looks just like one “that mother used to bake.” The writing is hilarious and by far the best part of the game.

Nightshade has a Popularity meter, which is increased by defeating enemies in combat and for doing some good deeds like rescuing a woman from a burning building. It is necessary to increase popularity to certain levels before some areas are accessible, like Vortex’s underground base. At low levels of popularity characters don’t remember his name properly, and call him things like Lampshade or Nightcart.

Some characters are actively hostile and approaching them triggers combat. In combat, Nightshade can move left or right, jump, duck, and use punch or kick attacks. Combat continues until either Nightshade or the enemies run out of health. Combat is difficult and takes a lot of practice. Part of the problem with combat is that it is too fast. If the game was slowed down just a little it would be more manageable. Hit detection is occasionally awkward.

When Nightshade runs out of health, either from combat or from interacting with something in the world, the game doesn’t immediately end. Instead, Nightshade is taken to a deathtrap where the player has an opportunity to solve a puzzle and then continue the game. The first, for example, finds Nightshade tied to a moving conveyor belt, where he will be crushed by a metal pillar in a few seconds. If the player can figure out how to escape, the game will continue. If not, Nightshade dies and the game ends. It’s one of the most creative and funny continue or extra life systems in a game. There are five deathtraps in total. The first four have solutions and the fifth does not, and the game will end at that point. There are ways to restore health, but they are all limited in number, so dying is a real possibility.

Despite having four continues the game is rather difficult. There is no save or password function, which is unusual for an adventure game or a game made late in the NES era. While the game is short it does take a while to learn where to go and how to fight enemies. A decent part of the game is entirely optional. To finish the game, the player must collect five scarabs to unlock Sutekh’s lair. Four of these are found by defeating bosses. The player has the option to find and neutralize four artifacts that Sutekh uses to empower himself. While this isn’t necessary to complete the game, it does make the last area easier. Each artifact neutralized allows the player to bypass a rematch of a previously defeated boss.

The developers of Nightshade would later make the SNES version of Shadowrun, and there are several notable similarities between the two games beyond being adventure games with awkward combat systems. The most interesting is that both protagonists are ambushed by enemies in the introduction. In Nightshade, the game starts with the player ambushed by Suketh’s forces and then he is tied to a chair in a dungeon. In Shadowrun, the protagonist Jake Armitage finds himself ambushed by hitmen and then the game starts with him in a drawer in a morgue. Both Nightshade and Armitage wear trench coats and sunglasses. Both games involve a trek through a sewer and a boss fight with a rat-man. But the two games still have significant differences. Shadowrun has a more serious tone, and has more emphasis on combat and role playing elements.

Anyone who likes adventure games should give Nightshade a try, along with anyone who enjoyed Shadowrun in the SNES. The only caveat is that combat takes time and practice, so anyone who prefers a “pure” adventure game without any action elements might find it too difficult.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Nightshade (US, 01/31/92)

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