When it comes to obscure, seldom-seen NES games, I doubt one could find many
equalling Nightshade in terms of the "what's this now?" factor. It's
existance is rarely acknowledged by any (despite a cover story in Nintendo
Power that caught my eye as a young lad), and was, though I may very well be
mistaken, Ultra's last game for our beloved Nintendo Entertainment System.
Yet, as those familiar with this page's philosophy can tell you, sometimes
the most-overlooked carts can be winners (heck, this game is at least
twice as good as Ultra's first TMNT cart).
The game's bizarre storyline (told with fabulously hyperbolic narration)
involves a fledgling super-hero, who, decked out in a trenchcoat and fedora,
sets out to free the noirish Metro City from the clutches of the evil
Sutekh, Egyptian super-villian extraordinaire. You see, Sutekh has recently
slain the vaguely 'Noid-ish (as in the Domino's pizza mascot, star of his
own fairly wretched NES game) formerly reigning superhero of the city,
Vortex. You, as Nightshade, must wander the city's streets, searching for
clues, defeating villains, and attempting to gain favor with the denizens of
Metro City. As the game opens (after a brief expository sequence) you have
just been tied to a chair by Sutekh, who has left a bomb waiting to
blow you to smithereens.
Utilizing a (surprisingly well-executed) graphic-adventure format, the game
allows to to perform the standard "use/move/talk/fight/etc." actions, yet
the interface is far, far less clumsy than in Deja Vu. Though a main
problem with computer-to-NES game ports such as the latter involves
lacking control, Nightshade is much simpler to get the hang of.
You control Nightshade with the control pad (as opposed to pointing and
clicking with a cursor like Maniac Mansion), and press the Select button
will bring up a command menu. Here you can examine, pick up, use, or do
of the things any traditional adventure game hero can do.
Unfortunately, though, it seriously needs a "save game" feature. Though
it's not terribly difficult (especially to a seasoned Sierra game veteran
like me), I just can't get used to performing various tasks every time I
start the game over.
There are some interesting features to the cart's structure, however:
Upon exhaustion of your life units, you are placed in an "escape-proof"
trap by Sutekh and his minions. If you succeed in extricating yourself
from the trap and its amusingly campy predicament, you are allowed to
continue. Also, when enemies are encountered, a (again, surprisingly
well-executed) fight sequence occurs. It's quite fast-moving, and
somewhat difficult if you're not expecting a jolt of action into the
usually deliberate pace of such a game. When enemies are defeated, the
barometrical gauge of Nightshade's popularity increases; by the same
token, failing to save a helpless senior citizen from victimization at the
hands of a mutant rat-man, hulking Tor Johnson-esque behemoth, or slinky
female ninja will result in a decrease in public esteem. In addition, a
Donkey Kong homage/parody involves rescuing a woman from a burning
building. It's fun, but out of place in this game.
However, my favorite aspects of Nightshade involve the hard-boiled,
sarcastic, and ridiculously verbose narration, often reminiscent of Sierra
computer games such as the Space Quest series. I was pleasantly surprised
to see such witty and well-written dialogue in a field that usually offers
wretchedly translated Japanese, outmoded late-80's slang, etc. Also, it
could well be said that this game offers the strangest cast of supporting
characters since Twin Peaks (in fact, I wonder if I'm alone in seeing what
I thought to be the zigzag floor pattern seen in Peaks and Eraserhead on a
convenience store wall in the game). My favorite character would definitely
be the Bob's Big Boy-esque cook, exclaiming "Hot nuts! Tasty hot nuts!"
from a ludicrously grinning, varnished 50's magazine-cover visage (similar
to that on the cover of Frank Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh! album).
Other characters are amusingly conscious of the fact that they are indeed
silly stereotypes, from the cantankerous old man to the "sullen-faced,
curly haired moppet" (as described by Nightshade himself).
The game's graphics are well done, and some of the backgrounds are nicely
drawn in appropriate comic-book style. The animation isn't the greatest,
but it hardly detracts from the game's enjoyability plus, you have to love
the silly, spinning Nightshade logo). The sounds and music aren't even half
bad, with some silly melodramatic soap-opera organ and pseudo-jazz-noir
stylings, though you'll probably get tired of the music, especially in
such a deliberately-paced game.
Nightshade is an enjoyable curiosity, yet it ultimately rises above its
"the hell?" status to provide frequently rewarding gameplay. Though I
guess I'm a bit biased as a fan of Sierra's and LucasArts' graphic
adventure series (the narration and structure of which this game strongly
resembles), I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this cart to any casual gamer,
NES collector or Adam West acolyte.