torstai 30. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Nosferatu (1994)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 1994
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): Seta Corporation
Publisher(s): Seta Corporation
Players: 1

Irish novelist Bram Stoker practically created the common myth of vampirism with his 1897 gothic horror classic Dracula. Adaptations and alterations of the story began to pour and in 1922, German film maker F.W. Murnau directed a silent horror film based on the novel, but localized Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens - Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. It was spit on by the Stoker family, but it remained a classic motion picture which influenced just about every vampire story brought to the big screen afterwards just as much as the original novel. Nosferatu became an official synonym for Dracula, it was just used less. Well, as time went by and people witnessed the dawn of computer and video games, vampires were an obvious myth for game developers to exploit. Konami's Castlevania series was born in 1986, and today, it needs no introduction. Hailing from the deep end, we got Bram Stoker's Dracula, yet another typical 90's movie license by Sony Imagesoft - playing it's just as fun as trying to spot as much different food residue in some other guy's vomit as you can. Somewhere in between we have... what? Nosferatu? Damn. I didn't even remember this game existed. Want to see if the Seta Corporation ever did anything passable by Western standards? A game that crosses the typical cinematic platformer scheme in the vein of Flashback and Prince of Persia with some stuff stolen straight out of Castlevania and moves ripped off from Final Fight? A game that has about as much in common with Nosferatu and Dracula as the Twilight series has with vampires? This is just way too interesting to pass. Let's take a brief gander at a SNES cartridge time forgot.

I firmly believe punching a werewolf is not the answer

Nosferatu, the king of all vampires, is on the hunt for a bride and he happens to find a very lovely candidate in Erin, a young maiden whom he kidnaps and places in a dungeon in his huge mansion. Erin is not exactly available, though. Kyle, a young athlete with remarkable skills in martial arts, sets out to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the foul creature of the night and his army of monsters.

Okay... let's start from the top. First of all, I was kidding: I did remember the game's existence quite well, but there are not many people that do. See, when I was a kid, I read every issue of a Finnish video game magazine called Super Power (I have mentioned it before) multiple times, to just have a look at cool-looking games again and again. Nosferatu looked very cool, and the graphics are indeed not bad at all. The overall rating was something like 79, that was pretty bad by the magazine's standards, but in a time cinematic platformers flourished, I thought it was just some sort of comparative rating to all the other, bigger games that were released around the time. Come on: the main character is named Kyle. Kind of Blackthorne-ish, don't you think? The game indeed struck me as a carbon copy of every other cinematic platformer there was... but a game I was eager to try, and 15 years since its U.S. release (it was never officially released in Europe), I finally got to try it. It's not a copy of one certain game, it is quite unique in fact... uniquely crappy. Yet, on the other hand and in theory, it's a quite respectable mix of different genres.

I finally run on cue! What an accomplishment!
Like I said, Nosferatu looks quite good. The cutscenes are dynamic, there's a little pseudo-3D thing going on, and the different environmental angle during gameplay looks quite neat. Some (very) small portions of the game's overall look are actually quite ahead of their time. But, it is bland. Imagine an actual cross between Prince of Persia and Super Castlevania IV, which are both older games than Nosferatu, and you'd come up with something a little more versatile and fleshed out.

The opening music of the game is cool, technically speaking - but in a vampire game that doesn't seem to have a clear time setting, it just kind of dribbles between the 1990's and the medieval times, I'm not really sure whether it belongs here or not. I think the theme song is best described as poor man's Donkey Kong Country. The background music is simply horrid throughout, there's nothing artistic about it - something that any sound effect dude wannabe could whip up overnight, in the small hours, in the confines of his garage.

It looks like Prince of Persia - or a cheap version of it - with a guy dressed like Rocky Balboa, kicking demon ass left and right. There are some elements from Castlevania that are especially apparent in the boss fights, as well as the theme, obviously, and the fact that somehow the big cheese has assumed control of just about every kind of cliched monster available. Gargoyles, werewolves, humping monkeys (yeah, even them), evil genies, Frankie, whatnot. I won't even go into flying bastards, 'cause about 50% of the game's bastards fly in some capacity and fashion.

Don't you mess with the crane kick, demon.
A very basic room, or dungeon, consists of many hallways that form a maze-like union. Actually you can get forward simply by going forward, you will eventually reach the spot to enter the next dungeon, no matter how confusing it all looks like. Some paths have more enemies and obstacles than others, and you can spot all of them from afar. Usually, the ones that look most hazardous are actually the easiest ones to avoid. The hardest ones you can't even see before going on a little trip of trial and error. Luckily you have an infinite amount of lives and continues. You just couldn't do without, I assure you. Every staircase works as a checkpoint. The graceful amount of checkpoints is one of the very few things I truly appreciate about the game.

You have a decent amount of different martial arts moves at your disposal. It's just too damn bad that the controls are horrible. Seriously, is there some sense in making a beat 'em up game with even slower control based on physics and timing than Flashback or Out of This World? The worst problem with most of the worst enemies is that they're like a million times faster than you could ever hope to be. You have no chance to master the game or meet its requirements for perfect timing. You just need to battle it out with patience if you're seriously going for making this boring, irrelevant game another feather in your hat. And, punching and kicking gargoyles and werewolves feels hella stupid.

I'm not really sure anymore.
The slide is the worst possible move to execute in this lacking control scheme, and of course, you need it just as much as you need the equally inresponsive running ability, to slip through narrow gaps. Actually, you have to run in order to be able to slide. Oh, and one more thing: usually you have some ultrafast enemy tracking you whenever you need to do these things. Botch it up, and you'll not only hit a wall, but you're certain to take some amount of damage. Keep botching it up and you'll die.

There are some "puzzles" which need to be "solved" in almost every dungeon, in other words "find" an obvious button on the floor to open some door right above you, or push a distinctively coloured "hidden" pile of bricks to reveal a "secret" passageway. This, and the fact that the so called mazes are not mazes at all, makes me think this game left the conveyor belt kinda incomplete. Or, Seta just thinks we players are dumb as bricks.

Each dungeon has a number of treasure chests, which contain hourglasses and crystals. The hourglass extends your time limit, which is not really relevant to begin with. Green crystals regenerate your health, and rare blue crystals grant you an additional half of a health container. Red crystals are quite different. They're like upgrades for the Vampire Killer in Castlevania, as they enhance your physical attacks. Yet, you lose one every time you take damage, whether you fall, get hit by an enemy, or hit a wall - kind of like Sonic's rings. It's impossible to not take damage in the game thanks to all the random occurrences like hands coming out of the floor and slapping you without any type of warning every now and then. Even if you memorize the placement of the hands, it doesn't help you a whole lot when the controls start acting up again, and some other occurrences fix the problem the previous ones couldn't. "Run, damn it! ...Oh, crap. YES! ...Ah, spikes coming out of the wall on the other side of this stretch. How nice. 1. I had to run to survive, and 2. traction equals zero. Baaaaaaad combination." Just some of the things I said out loud while playing.

Not just a flying bastard, but a FAT flying
The boss fights in the game are just about as generic as you can imagine. The bosses are incredibly easy to lock up and make them succumb to a merciless series of straight punches, even if there are multiple bosses to fight at the same time. Punch one down, just punch the other 'til he's down, repeat. Nothing to it. Same goes for the general difficulty level of the game. Thanks to the surprisingly frequent checkpoints and infinite continues, you can easily beat the game if you have the slightest interest to do it.

Nosferatu is not a completely bad game - as in those starring Bubsy the Bobcat. God, I've missed saying that! It's somewhat entertaining and fun, but mostly a very bland, boring game with a totally non-existent horror atmosphere, and awful controls that almost make me feel like I'm trying to play Clay Fighter with both of my hands plastered. The time is surely coming to re-evaluate the playability of other cinematic platformers of the time - it couldn't have been this bad.

Graphics : 7.7
Sound : 5.5
Playability : 5.8
Challenge : 5.0
Overall : 5.8


GameRankings: 70.05%

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