A Quick Look At Nightmare Creatures II

Every console library has its fair share of stinkers, and the Dreamcast is no different. For every Shenmue or Soul Calibur, there's an equal and opposite Spirit of Speed 1937 or Urban Chaos. As demonstrated by this continued, ill-advised usage of Newton's third law as a literary device, for every experience that propels you toward the very zenith of gameplay, graphics and sound design coming together in a crescendo of mind-bending brilliance; there's a nadir waiting to bring you back down to Earth with a city-crushing bump. Ladies and gentlemen allow me to present Nightmare Creatures II, a game so fist-clenchingly bad that it's almost comical.
As Dreamcast fans we spend an inordinate amount of time remembering the good aspects of the console and lamenting at its untimely demise. Just like when you sit and reminisce about how much fun you had during your school days, it's all too easy to filter out the bad stuff. So you selectively forget all the times you got bad marks in an exam, had to walk home in the rain, got detention for something you didn't do, or had a fight with your best mate; but recall all the laughs, sunny field trips and just how comparatively easy life was back then as a care-free school kid. The same is true with Dreamcast fandom - we all remember the Shenmues, Power Stones, Soul Caliburs et al...and we quickly forget that the Dreamcast played host to a hell of a lot of shit too.
You know you're in for a treat when the pre-rendered loading screens
are full of pixellation.
One of the main culprits here were the sloppy PlayStation ports that made no attempt to harness the extra power of Sega's newer hardware, and were simply put out in an attempt to boost sales figures. Don't get me wrong - there are a ton of exemplary PlayStation to Dreamcast ports that really enhance the base game: Soul Reaver is one such game that immediately springs to mind. But there were far more that were just simple, bare bones ports that really offered no real advantages over the original versions. Ducati World, any of the Disney movie tie ins, Star Wars Jedi Power Battles, Evil Dead...the list goes on; and sitting right at the top of that fetid, putrid pile is Nightmare Creatures II.

Before I delve into the nitty-gritty of why Nightmare Creatures II is so bad, it's worth noting that the game was developed by Kalisto Entertainment - the same team responsible for 4 Wheel Thunder. This is perplexing because the aforementioned Midway-published arcade racer is one of the best games on the Dreamcast, and features some truly outstanding visuals and presentation; yet Nightmare Creatures is one of the most depressingly broken games not only on the Dreamcast, but on any system I've ever owned. What's possibly even more interesting than the massive gulf in quality between these two games is the story of Kalisto Entertainment's rise to popularity, subsequent bankruptcy and all the shady goings on behind the scenes that resulted in several court cases against the senior management. It's well worth reading up on, if that's your bag...but for now, we'll leave the courts of Bordeaux behind and get back to Nightmare Creatures II.
Kalisto's other Dreamcast game. Notice any differences?
Published by Konami in 2000, Nightmare Creatures II is the sequel to the PC, PlayStation and N64 survival horror title Nightmare Creatures (surprise!) and is set 100 years after the events of the prequel. The first game in the series is regarded as being quite a decent adventure and received some respectable review scores back in the day, and the storyline does introduce some interesting elements of gothic and even Lovecraftian horror. Ancient cults, black magic and rituals all mixed together with real life events and well-known figures from history - it does make for an cool backdrop for a survival horror game. The sequel however, moves away from the streets of Victorian London and instead settles on Paris of the 1930s where you assume the role of one Herbert Wallace, a test subject for the genetic alteration programme that runs as a main plot point through both of these games. Wallace takes it upon himself to break out of the asylum-like 'hospital' he's being held in and then rampage through the dark streets of Paris, waging a one-man war on the monsters that have been created by the game's main antagonist. There's the makings of an interesting plot in Nightmare Creatures II, make no mistake, but in execution it is all but forgotten once you realise just how horrible the game is to look at, listen to...and play.
This illustrates the texture filter option.
Taking the form of a 3D adventure game with mild beat 'em up elements, you shuffle around various boring, brown locations picking up keys and swinging an axe to kill enemies that occasionally shamble into view. The environments all look the same - boxy and unimaginative, bathed in half light from dull lamps...which would be fine and very atmospheric if it didn't all look like the world was going to fall apart under its own weight at any moment. Heavily pixellated textures are everywhere (although there's a filter option that smooths everything over like an N64 game), while character models are ugly, angular and poorly animated. There also appears to be a massive issue with perspective, as some enemies appear to grow and shrink in size depending on where the camera is located.

"We were wondering why Konami were procrastinating in sending us a copy of Nightmare Creatures II and now we know. In a word, it's diabolical. The graphics are impossibly bad for a Dreamcast game, as it's only mildly better than the PlayStation version. Likewise, the gameplay and control are atrocious, making it virtually unplayable, and no game should make you go through such a painful process. This is a nightmare in every sense. Avoid it at all costs"
 - Alex Warren, Dreamcast Magazine

Another issue is the combat itself, where you are encouraged to use combinations of axe swings and kicks, but the collision detection is so ropey and the animation so choppy it's hard to tell if you're actually making contact with your adversary. There is a pseudo training arena labelled as 'therapy' that can be selected from the main menu, but all it consists of is a single room where the same two enemies try to attack you ad infinitum. It's a helpful way to learn how few moves you have at your disposal and how the 'fatality' mechanic works (basically press A and X together once your enemy is low on health to activate a decapitation animation), but it becomes apparent after the 6th wave of identical enemies that there's nothing more to this mode.

Going back to the actual fighting though, the only way to actually win these encounters is to just keep hammering the attack buttons and hope you come out on top. On the occasions that you meet multiple enemies, only the one you automatically lock on to will fight you and the others will just stand there in the background waiting their turn...so that's a plus. Having to engage multiple foes with this terrible system would be even more unwieldy if the AI wasn't so poor, so you can at least take solace in that. The major, crippling downside of this automatic lock on system is that once it engages, you can't escape so running away from a fight if you're low on health simply isn't an option.
One of the many enemies whose scale shifts at will.
There's very little in the way of music or sound effects apart from the usual stock grunts from enemies, and most of the cinematic cut scenes are laughably bad. For me though, one of the most puzzling aspects of Nightmare Creatures II is the character design. The central character you play as is a half bald, hunch-backed mutant covered in bandages and a ripped trench coat. Now, I'm not suggesting that every video game hero should be a buff, muscle-bound hero with a shotgun or something, but a large part of wanting to play a game (for me anyway) involves feeling like you have some form of connection to your onscreen avatar. You want them to win or save the day because you believe that your character is the good guy, or is an appealing character you want to see overcome a challenge against the odds. This simply isn't the case with Nightmare Creatures II as it's hard to form a connection to such a visually unappealing central character. I'm all for diversity and originality...but I'm afraid I found it very hard to care for a protagonist that looks like he just climbed out of a bin.
The lightbulbs look nice.
I'm not going to lie here - I only managed to play Nightmare Creatures for around an hour before I really just lost interest. You just wander from room to room encountering enemies, hammering the attack buttons and then moving on to repeat the process in the next area. The environments are excruciatingly dull, there are tons of graphical glitches, the character models are unimaginative and the whole game plays abysmally. Dreamcast Magazine branded Nightmare Creatures II as the worst game on the Dreamcast in their review, and I'm erring on the side of agreement.


Unknown said...

I played through NC2 and reviewed it over at sega-dc.de a while ago. It really is one of the worst games on the Dreamcast and it doesn't get much better later in the game. After a while I actually figured out the combat system (there is a bit of strategy but it is still not good) and the fights felt a bit better but not much. Like you said one can see the potential of the game at some points but it is quickly ruined by all the bad design choices and the horrible graphics.

Tom Charnock said...

Hey Polygonien, thanks for your comment. Yeah, I found that continually circling the enemies while hitting them helped (if you can class that as a strategy!), but I didn't glean much fun from NC2. It's one of those games I've had in my collection for years but only played for a short while when I first got it due to it being rubbish. I decided to go back to it and give it another go...but my initial thoughts were only confirmed!

Unknown said...

I could get used to the game. I played it about 3/4 through. It is of course really ugly, but I think the atmosphere is good and gameplay okay. I think you can most definatelly do worse on the DC. I think Urban Chaos and Fighting force 2 (sort of the same genre), are far worse.

Proth said...

I know this comment is a year old, but whatever. I just started playing through NC2 since I got it for cheap at a yard sale. If you play the game without knowing at all what you are doing, which I did at first, it really is a pita, and practically unplayable. Knowing what you are doing makes it playable, and very easy, but still a slog. Essentially, the best technique is to attack once (or do a combo if you can be sure to land it) then hold the block (protect) button, then attack again. Some enemies will have a taunt animation or a some spot where its ideal to attack them. The big guys in the first level will back off and growl at you, for example. If you pay attention, its pretty easy with trial and error to learn the best attack points. And after that its rinse and repeat. The game becomes a huge slog, but extremely easy after you get that. Special items also, almost always kill the enemies in one hit. Furthermore its best to save up health bags if you don't need them and come back and pick them up later.