By Jake Rushing
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Ultra Games
Release Date: January 1992
Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System
For every console that exists in the market, there are games that shine through and become the game staples of their consoles, like Super Mario World for SNES, or Sonic The Hedgehog for Genesis. However, there are also games that should deserve some love that would get criminally overlooked to the point where not a lot of people become aware of the game’s existence later on. Some of these games that fall in the latter are better left uncovered for reasons that they are not simply enjoyable. Then there are other games that they aren’t half bad, while there are decent but unfortunately fell off the radar due to other reasons. I feel that Nightshade for NES is one of those games that are decent but fall off the radar, due to the fact it got released a year after SNES took off in the Western shores.
Nightshade Part 1: The Claws of Sutekh takes place in a urban city called Metro City, where a hero named Vortex used to patrol the streets to help protect Metro City. Until one day, he became overwhelmed by criminals and got killed. Ever since Vortex’s death, the crime has skyrocketed due to crime lords trying to take control of the city until Sutekh gained control of the entire city. It seems that there is no hero that wants to overthrow Sutekh and the crime. No one, except for your average joe hero named Nightshade donning his overcoat who aims to stop Sutekh. Except oh snap, Nightshade is already captured! The game starts off with Nightshade being tied to a chair next to a bomb. Once you manage to escape the place that you’re held captive in, you have to stop Sutekh!
Nightshade has a gameplay that is not like anything anyone has seen in a game. It is a point-and-click adventure while it has fighting sequences that require precise timing of inputs. In the overworld, you can move the character freely like a console game and you can examine objects or operate objects by pressing A and B respectively. Pressing either buttons brings up the cursor (and pausing the game) which the player can move it around to a person or an object whether you can examine a shopkeeper, or if you need to operate a lever. As you go in the overworld, touching the enemy switches the gameplay to a fight between the player and that enemy, which you have to defeat them using timed jumps and punches.
As for the overworld, there are tasks to do to help out people, and there are bosses that you have to beat before you beat Sutekh. Nightshade gives you the flexibility to do tasks and beat bosses in any order you wish. The game doesn’t have a sequence set in stone as for dictating what order you should do tasks in, so you can even beat bosses and beat Sutekh, or you can do tasks first and then beat bosses. Or do a blend of both in whatever order you choose. Even though doing all of the tasks and beating all of the bosses is required to achieve 100% completion in the game, the tasks are completely optional, even though some tasks are recommended that you should do in order to make things easier.
What makes Nightshade enjoyable is their theme of being a superhero coming from nothing and growing into a hero, which is shown through a few aspects of this game. One of the aspects that show off the theme is the popularity meter. At the start of the game, the meter starts at 0, signify that he starts out as a nobody to everyone’s eyes. As Nightshade defeats enemies, or doing certain deeds, his popularity meter rises. The most significant part of the popularity meter is that there is a relation between the deeds done, and how people view Nightshade as a result of the deeds done.
The theme is also carried out through dialogue. The dialogue is often heartwarming while showing a sense of humor at times, even if Sutekh interacts with you at certain points of the game. There are even moments where they break the 4th wall. There are plenty of characters who exist just to give hints, there are some characters that are talking just for laughs. There will be points in the game that if you are not popular enough, people will make point to shun you.
This theme is also shown through it’s own unique method of having a limited number of chances that the player has before game over. There is no display of how many lives you have, but every time your health reaches zero, Nightshade gets thrown in a different deathtrap with a chance to escape that death trap. Of course, getting out of a trap requires a wit from the player in order to figure out a way to seek to escape the death trap. Once you have managed to get out of enough death traps, you’ll end up in a death trap without any means of escape. And that’s when the player knows that it’s game over.
While Nightshade makes the game a worthwhile experience, the experience would get hindered by a non-straight-forward menu that makes the experience more complicated when you deal with a point-and-click game for the console. You would have to press a certain button to check some menus or action commands like Jump. As for picking up items or operating items, you have to be right next or right in front of the object of interest in order for the menu actions to register. The only redeeming part about this menu is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to get accustomed to.
Another aspect of the game that might hinder the experience is that there are plenty of factors that can set the difficulty curve steep for newcomers. The enemies in the game can be tough to beat when first starting out to the point of getting into a death trap on your first enemy encounter. Once you have managed to get a good hold on how to beat the enemies, there is still a chance that you’ll lose a lot of health from a fight here and there. As for the death traps themselves, they are hard to figure out when you are just getting acquainted with the complicated menu system, since learning the menu is really essential for getting out of death traps. Meanwhile, the player who was getting acquainted with the game can be thrown off by the quick transition from overworld adventuring to battling an enemy, as they have to learn how to fight an enemy and stay alive. It takes a good amount of patience to handle the difficulty to finally learn how to master the game.
Mastering the game is essential to beating the game. But once you’ve finally got the game down, the game will certainly be a lot shorter to play. It would take the player a lot longer to learn how to master the game than it would take to beat the game once the player manages to master the game. The average playtime for a player who is good enough to beat the game is roughly 1 hour. Even for games that have a short playtime, this is below average in terms of the game length.
Overall, it is certainly a console experience that no other NES game could offer to the player. This game is a must-grab either for those who enjoy point-and-click adventure games, or for those who are looking for hidden gems, or perhaps if you fancy games that tickle your funny bone enough to make you smile. This game is not common by any means if you aim to go out and hunt for a copy at retro gaming stores or flea markets. If you managed to find one though, the price shouldn’t be shabby ($20 at the time of this writing, according to Video Game Pricing Chart). In the end, it depends on the person who is willing to play it, as it might not be for everyone. I will say though if you do decide to buy it, you won’t regret having a chance to play Nightshade!