Review by Emptyeye

Reviewed: 09/27/01 | Updated: 09/27/01

Keen!

Ultra, AKA Konami, produced many games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sadly, however, besides the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series and possibly Skate or Die, most games branded Ultra tended to fade into obscurity. Can you name any other games by Konami's alter ego? I didn't think so. Konami took the big names like Contra and Gradius and left Ultra to kind of bring up the rear. Nightshade, released in 1992, was one of the final Ultra titles.

Nightshade is a detective game that takes place in the ubiquitous Metro City. The premise of Nightshade is that the superhero Vortex has been slain by a mysterious crime boss named Sutekh. Now, Sutekh wants Metro City for himself. Obviously, something has to be done. So, here comes Nightshade. But Nightshade isn't your typical leotard-and-cape wearing crime fighter. Nightshade is an average Joe (Actually, I believe his name is Mark, but that's another story) who forgoes these lavish outfits for a simple trenchcoat. As the game begins, Nightshade finds himself in an unenviable position--tied to a chair in a sewer, with a bomb next to him, set to explode. I've seen hard introductions to crime-fighting before, but this is ridiculous. So the game begins.

Graphics: 7/10- The graphics are well done, and set the mood nicely. Everything is rendered well, and when details need to be highlighted, like conspicuous bricks in the wall, they are. This is a game that requires you to look at everything around you, and the graphics allow you to quickly scan and find things to Examine.

Animation is also well done, with Nightshade and other characters moving fluidly. If you stand around for too long, Nightshade turns to you with an impatient look on his face, and stands there, arms crossed. It's a nice touch. When you go to talk to people--or for that matter, animals--you get a close-up of their face, providing they talk to you at all.

Sound: 6/10- The sound, however, does nothing to sustain the dark mood of the graphics, and perhaps that's just as well. While the music does serve to fit the mood of wherever you happen to be (An Oriental area plays Chinese sounding music, for instance), with the exception of the first area (Wow, that's some upbeat music for having just escaped being blown up!), it's all relatively upbeat, and not really in keeping with the crime-ridden city you're supposed to be saving.

The sound effects are really quite scarce. Aside from typical punch-kick-get hit effects, and the strange one that plays whenever you try to maneuver the menu system incorrectly, there's not a lot to recall in this department.

Control: 7/10- The control scheme is a little unusual, but the game itself moves along at a somewhat leisurely pace, so everything works out okay. Basically, the Control Pad moves our trenchcoated hero and/or cursor where you examine things, the A button brings up said cursor which lets you Examine things, the B button is for Operating various items (Again via cursor), and Select
(Holy underused controller buttons Batman!) brings you to a menu that's chock full of commands, from Fighting (Which is kind of useless, as you automatically fight most bad guys anyway) to Talking to people. Nightshade moves a little slowly, particularly when he's tied to a chair (But then what do you expect?), but not slowly enough to really hinder the pace of the game.

In addition, the fight scenes move quickly, and there are certain situations where quick reflexes are required. While fighting is a nice break from the wandering around, these scenes can be slightly difficult to control. All in all, though, there are no major problems, despite the menu-heavy interface.

Gameplay: 8/10- Where Nightshade shines is in its utterly unique gameplay. I really can't think of any other game to compare it to, which is strange, given the crime-fighting genre. But anyway, you wander from screen to screen, gathering items to use in certain situations. Every now-and-then, you explore an area or get into a fight. Nothing unusual yet, right?

But this game isn't your typical gather evidence and solve the crime mystery game. One of the things you have to do is build up your popularity. This is accomplished by doing various superhero-type things, from rescuing cats stuck in trees to stopping crimes-in-progress. Without popularity, some people won't talk to you, and it becomes impossible to progress until you find of way of winning the people over.

The game pays tribute to the Batman live-action TV series of the 1960s in several ways. One is the humorous descriptions of some of the items (Upon examining a lever: ''It's a lever [Well, what did you expect this to say?].''), and another is its use of strange adjectives (''Keen! A box of Uncle Rodney's Weasel Flakes!'', hence the Synopsis) But how Nightshade most obviously does homage to Batman is in its continue scenes. Let me explain. In the Batman TV show, in between parts 1 and 2 of a given episode, Batman and/or Robin was placed in some ludicrously strange ''Escape-Proof'' Deathtrap, like being made into Skeleton Keys or being threaded into a mattress, by some overconfident villain. Invariably, the heroes escaped. Guess what? If you run out of health in Nightshade, you too are placed in an ''Escape Proof'' situation. While these aren't as unusual as Batman's save for one, they too have ways out. Sutekh is also quite overconfident in his devices, as he taunts you before leaving you to your fate. It's really a capper on the uniqueness of this game.

Challenge: 8/10- Frustratingly, the game has no Save option, which ups the challenge more than necessary. As far as the game itself goes, you need to examine everything, but what you have to do with everything is fairly obvious. The fights, on the other hand, are always a challenge no matter how many times you go through them. However, a majority of the challenge comes from figuring out what everything does, as well as (To a lesser extent) deciphering the Deathtraps.

Replay Value: 6/10- The game is fun, no doubt about that. But the fact that there's very little action in the game--in other words, little based on actual skill or reflexes--means that in general, one playthrough will be enough for most people. The fact that it's all the way in one play does just as much to hurt the Replay Value as it does to help it. I personally find it fun to let myself run out of health to see what ways I can interact with the Deathtraps to find out anything interesting about them (My favorite, upon examining a giant weight [This is paraphrased]: ''It's a 16-ton weight. Haven't seen one of these in awhile.'').

Overall: 8/10- Games with the Ultra label were typically overlooked, and this is definitely no exception. The fact that they called this game ''Part 1'' tells me they were probably planning a sequel to it. It's really quite sad that no sequel was ever made, because this had the potential to become a great series. As it is, this is a very unique game, definitely worth the purchase if you can find it. Even if you have to resort to emulating it, go for it. You won't regret it.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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