Let's start by saying that the screenshots of Nightmare Castle in no way do the game justice. The game is a scrolling platformer with the occasionally flipping screen. If the original Broderbund game Prince Of Persia comes to mind then it should; this is a lot like that game, and in terms of playability Nightmare Castle matches that classic.
You start outside. It is dark, and a creepy moaning fills the sky. Armed with a sword, you hack sideways through zombies towards a castle on the far right (I don't mean a Nazi castle, I mean that the level scrolls). Suddenly it starts to rain, complete with flashes of lightning, and a statue creaks into life and becomes your first major foe. The atmosphere in this game excels.
In computer games a lot of amulets go missing, and a lot of heroes go missing trying to find them. Your quest in Nightmare Castle is to find the usual lost magical amulet. Sword in hand and platform by platform we jump, sometimes banging our heads on the platforms above, and sometimes jumping through them. Moving platforms, and undead (did I mention the dead?) are out to thwart you. Leave a scrolling area by walking off one side and a new screen greets you, so the game is part scroller and part flip screen. Sometimes you can fall to your death when you fall off the bottom of a room, and sometimes you enter the room below. Some clue to either end would have been nice.
The music is very impressive, not so much in terms of audio quality but in terms of the way it's used to evoke an atmosphere. Nightmare Castle definitely has the best sound design of any game I've reviewed for Bytten. Constant creepy noises follow the main character through the early rooms then, silence... just before the chimaera jumps from the ceiling accompanied by operatic wailing and orchestral stabs. The only spoiler is that the audio playback quality is quite poor. The sound effects are quite poor and repetitive, some actions have no sound effect at all, but the music never ceases to impress.
The bitmapped graphics are imaginitive, and well animated, but not fine or attractive. The graphics look as if they have been hand drawn and scanned. Monsters look and move well in clunks, but often look very amateurish, almost like a childs drawing. The guardians are very impressive in size and appearance, and the collision detection works well which is important. A beautiful front page, and a professional reworking of the in game graphics would make this game turn heads. At the moment heads might turn away.
There are one or two game play niggles. Often, I would seem to strike a hit on a guardian without it seeming to register despite the visual spark. It should be as obvious as possible when you do damage to an enemy and when you don't, but a lot of the time there is very little or no visual difference between a hit that hurts an enemy and a hit that does nothing; and this makes it very difficult to learn from ones mistakes.
The full version contains special save rooms that restore your health and give you a restart point. These rooms use a unique matrix of symbols to store the game position in pictorial form, an original idea that works but it does require you to write down the pass-picture. The demo version doesn't have save points and comes across as much more difficult than the full game as a result. The chimaera is a very tough enemy that I have never managed to defeat.
There are few technical issues, like there is no installer for the zipped game. This is not a bad thing for experienced users but people without technical abilities (or WinZip) might never get to play the game. Windows is active in the background and upon stabbing the Shift key 5 times quickly, XP decided to interrupt the game and tell me about 'sticky keys'. Nightmare Castle also creates lots of folders in C:\Temp that it does not delete.
Nightmare Castle is a large and ambitious game, that works. The game is full of atmosphere and imagination, and the gameplay is very good indeed. I feel that the poor graphics might be working against the designers, making the game look about a decade out of date when this could dominate at at time when there are very few games of this scale and style out there. Simply a good game.
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