The mid-to-late '90s saw the release of many great horror games, such as Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, and Silent Hill. If you were to pick up a magazine around 1997 though, there's a good chance you'd see an advertisement or article for a lesser known game called Nightmare Creatures. The game received generally positive reviews when it was released in the fall of 1997 for PlayStation and PC and then the following year for the Nintendo 64. I played it around the time of its release and it provided a nice horror experience while I waited patiently for Resident Evil 2.
A sequel was later released in the spring of 2000 for PlayStation and Dreamcast, but it received a more negative reception compared to its predecessor. Since then, the series has laid dormant, though a sequel and a remake were both in development at one point or another.
With this article, we're going to take a look at both games and see how they stack up to one another. Let's get to it!
Before I go any further, let me provide a quick synopsis of the story. In the 1600s, there's a group that starts experimenting with corpses to create a mixture of substances that would bestow superhuman powers so they could take over the world. Although their experiments failed to produce the results they hoped for, they did manage to turn their test subjects into all sorts of hideous monsters, otherwise known as "nightmare creatures". One of the group's members saw the madness that was taking over and decided to burn the laboratory and all traces of the experiments to prevent the group from carrying out their plan.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years later and a new plague has started taking hold in London that causes grotesque transformations for those that are infected. It turns out that a man named Adam Crowley has managed to pick up the research again and has already started unleashing these creatures in hopes of world domination.
Nightmare Creatures offers two playable characters, each with their own set of moves that helps add a little replay value to a relatively linear experience. Once you have control of your character, the first thing you'll probably notice is that movement in this game is a little, um, clunky. Your character moves pretty fast and all, especially compared to games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but something just feels off. It can be difficult to maneuver with high precision, even if you're just trying to round a corner or pick up an item.
Of course, it becomes really problematic when you're fighting an enemy or dealing with one of the platforming sections. Yep, that's right, platforming in a game that has clunky controls. And not only that, but many of these platforming sections can result in instant death if you fall off. Nightmare Creatures is old school in that you have a certain number of lives and you're able to respawn until you run out of them. But once you do, the game is over. There are no mid-level checkpoints that I know of and you can only save when you complete a level. This, coupled with a large amount of challenging combat can result in a frustrating experience for those wading into these nightmarish waters for the first time.
Speaking of combat, there's a lot of it. And by a lot, I mean that's about all you do. Nightmare Creatures is a level-by-level affair and it's really just a matter of going from Point A to Point B. There aren't really any puzzles in the game, aside from finding a switch to open a door or something. You'll occasionally find a small optional area that might contain an item or two, but for the most part you're heading down a linear path.
Once you've wrangled the controls a bit, the combat is fairly enjoyable. There are quite a few enemy types in the game and you'll need to adjust your approach for some of them. The game does have some targeting issues though. Since you can't really lock onto enemies, your attacks can sometimes miss and you'll subsequently take damage. It's very easy to start stringing together combos and if your target moves out of the way, you open yourself up to a counter attack. Some of the enemies also have rather cheap attacks and that can add more frustration. It's still generally fun though and you start go get the hang of it after a while, but it could've used a bit more polish.
Given its combat-heavy gameplay, I've always considered Nightmare Creatures to be a straight-up action game and its fast-paced nature reminds me of beat 'em ups to some degree. It certainly doesn't go all in on the genre like Fighting Force did around the same time, but there are similarities. Although it's often referred to as a "survival horror" game, I definitely wouldn't label it as such. I mean, yeah, there are certainly horror aspects, but there isn't much in the way of exploration or puzzle-solving, nor do you have to really deal with inventory management. Items are limited in the game and you'd be wise to not waste them, but that's about it.
Genre quibbles aside, if there's one thing Nightmare Creatures does very well, it's that it builds a great horror atmosphere. The game goes for a gothic horror feel and it does a great job of representing it with the environments, art direction, color palette, and background music. The levels cover horror basics like crypts and cemeteries, but for the most part you're exploring city streets, docks, and other outdoor environments. The entire game takes place at night, which helps build the mood even further.
In terms of graphics, Nightmare Creatures does an okay job of rendering the spooky environments and creepy enemies. The 3D models aren't the most detailed you'll find from this era, but the art direction is solid with plenty of horror elements sprinkled throughout the levels and enemies that go beyond the usual suspects. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of zombies, werewolves, and demons, but there are also some original creatures that you'll have to contend with here. Attacking enemies results in buckets of crimson blood splattering everywhere and limbs are often hacked with ease on certain enemies. Ambient effects like falling leaves, rain, and fog work together with some cool lighting to help immerse you into the nightmarish world even further.
One of my favorite things about Nightmare Creatures is the excellent soundtrack that plays while you're exploring the levels. The atmospheric tracks really fit the tone that the game is aiming for and it drives home the classic horror theme very well. The game utilizes noticeably more up tempo tracks for the boss fights, but they're again composed very well and nail the theme perfectly.
To me, Nightmare Creatures is a great example of a game that's greater than the sum of its parts. Having played this game back in the '90s, I'm sure nostalgia is tainting my ability to properly assess it, but there's just something about it that I've always enjoyed. It lacks the polish of Resident Evil and Silent Hill and is more akin to an enjoyable B movie than a summer blockbuster. The clunky controls and erratic difficulty do hamper the experience, but it's an easy game to recommend to fans of retro horror games that can approach it with an open mind.
Nightmare Creatures II
After a positive critical and commercial reception for the first game, Nightmare Creatures II arrived a few years later in May 2000. The sequel picks things up with Adam Crowley still creating hideous monsters, even though 100 years has passed since the first game. This game only features one playable character by the name of Herbert Wallace, while the two main characters from the original game are only mentioned briefly throughout the story. Wallace is an interesting character though since at the beginning of the game he's being held in captivity as a test subject of sorts for Crowley's experiments. He manages to escape though and sets out on an adventure to stop Crowley's madness.
At a glance, Nightmare Creatures II looks a lot like its predecessor, but there are a number of changes to the formula in the sequel. The first thing you'll likely notice is that your melee combat arsenal is a lot smaller this time around. Not only did the first game have two characters with different move sets, but each character had a decent number of combos at their disposal. Well, unless I'm missing something, there are only two combos in this game. That's right, you're going to be smashing the same three-button combinations over and over and over. And unlike the first game, I felt like combos were more or less required here, which means things get very repetitive.
The combat is fairly similar to the first game, though it feels a little different. The biggest change is that the game now switches between exploration and combat mode. It's a seamless transition, but your character moves differently and gains additional actions while in combat. You enter combat mode by simply getting close enough to an enemy and in doing so, you'll automatically lock onto them. At first, I thought this was a positive change since I had issues with targeting enemies in the first game. Unfortunately, the targeting system isn't without its problems. The biggest issue is that I would still miss my target even when I was mid-combo. Enemies move around and whatnot, but it's not like they're doing some sort of fancy dodging or anything. It's as if the targeting system can't keep up with the action on screen and you end up whiffing on the attack, which leaves you open for taking damage.
Another thing I noticed with the targeting system is that sometimes it just wouldn't kick in until I was right next to an enemy. Since your character is in "exploration" mode until targeting engages, you have a limited amount of moves available, so you can't string together combos until the enemy is targeted. Of course, I would often end up taking damage if the targeting was delayed, which was really frustrating.
I mentioned earlier that you don't have as many moves available to you, but this time around there are some finishing moves that you can trigger when the word "FATALITY" flashes on the screen. Unlike, say, Mortal Kombat, you can perform a finishing move by simply pressing two buttons at the same time, so they're really easy to pull off. Although they vary by enemy type, the finishing moves still become really repetitive given the amount of enemies you face.
One thing I did like about the combat is that the game throws a bunch of new enemies at you. There are certainly some repeats from the first game, but even those enemies seemed to behave a little differently than before. There are also several new boss enemies that were kinda neat, though I was ultimately disappointed by the final boss.
Okay, enough about the combat, let's talk about the exploration side of things. Much like the first game, there isn't a ton of exploring to do since the game is quite linear, but there did appear to be an uptick in the amount of locked doors and whatnot. The levels sometimes required backtracking, especially if you missed a key or whatever, but your path is generally pretty clear. It seemed like this one relied more heavily on indoor environments and I thought that hurt the overall atmosphere to some degree, though there are horror-esque areas for you to explore.
The levels in Nightmare Creatures II are noticeably larger when compared to the first game and given the repetitive combat and limited puzzle solving, I thought this hurt the overall pace of the game. Even though it only has about half as many levels, it took me longer to finish the sequel, though admittedly I'm much more familiar with the original game. Thankfully, the developers put in some mid-level save points so you don't have to complete them in one go.
Thankfully, the sequel removes most of the instant death platforming sections from the first game. They still exist, but they're much more manageable this time. Also, instead of dying when you fall in water, you'll actually need to do some swimming as you progress through the levels. These underwater sections, as well as some basic climbing sections felt a lot like the original Tomb Raider games. I suppose these changes helped to add some variety to the levels, but I certainly wish they would've ironed out the combat system before tacking on more exploration elements.
Much like the first game, the atmospheric soundtrack is a bright spot in Nightmare Creatures II. I didn't find it quite as memorable as the first one, but it still does a great job of creating a haunting atmosphere as you explore the levels. One interesting change is that the CG cutscenes feature music from Rob Zombie, specifically the Hellbilly Deluxe album. Although I love that album, I had mixed feelings on how it was utilized here as it seems to strike a different tone compared to the rest of the game and the series as a whole.
Graphically, Nightmare Creatures II is very similar to the first game, but I noticed a lot of clipping issues during my playthrough. Combat is still a gory affair with arguably even more blood and plenty of severed limbs flying off in the fray. One minor complaint is that unlike the first game, enemies disappear immediately upon death instead of lying on the ground in a bloody mess, though ultimately it's of no consequence to the actual gameplay.
Unlike the first game, I felt like Nightmare Creatures II just couldn't quite put everything together into one cohesive experience. I certainly admire the developers trying out new things to avoid a complete rehash of the first game, but I didn't think all of those changes were for the better. Clunky controls, a semi-broken targeting system, and repetitive combat turned the game into a slog after a while. For me, it's a disappointing sequel and its lackluster reception undoubtedly pumped the brakes on this becoming a long-running series. It's maybe still worth a look if you enjoyed the first game, but it's hard to recommend it to anyone else.
It's been over 20 years since the second and final game in the series was released, but there have been a couple of times when it looked like fans might have something to look forward to. A third game was originally planned to be released in 2003, but the developers, Kalisto Entertainment, went out of business and the game was ultimately cancelled. In 2017, Albino Moose Games announced they were working on a reboot, but it was later cancelled as well.
So that means we're left with just two Nightmare Creatures games that can be difficult to recommend and vary in overall quality. I'm a firm believer that the first game punched above its weight class a bit and remains a memorable horror game over 25 years since its release. The sequel was a disappointment for me and I don't find it to be a particularly good game, but it tried to keep the spirit alive. Despite some of the harsh criticisms I've made here, I'm still hopeful that one day a company out there will give this series another chance. But alas, it seems we can all rest easy, for now it appears the nightmare has ended.