The following write-up was contributed by my longtime friend Jefferson Taylor. The only person I knew who owned a Neo•Geo AES in the ’90s, so I consider him my personal Neo•Geo authority. Enjoy!
“…this was an ancient story when people still believed in the power of witchcraft. There lived one grave keeper at a very small village in a remote region. He lived a quiet, solitary life in a corner of the Cemetery, for he kept away from village people due to his very ugly appearance. One day he found the graves were ransacked and some corpses were stolen. He didn’t want village people to know that, he decided to eliminate the grave burglars by himself. Thus he patrolled the Cemetery every midnight…”
And so the nightmare begins! The nightmare of empty pockets that is, if you were fortunate enough to find this quarter sucker on location back in 2000.
Nightmare in the Dark, an odd “one shot” released exclusively on the Neo•Geo MVS by Gavaking/Eleven/AM Factory, is a puzzle/platformer in the same vein
as Snow Brothers, Bubble Bobble and Zupapa! (another Neo•Geo exclusive). A solid (albeit brief) title in the MVS’s library, NiTD stands out as a breath of fresh air on a system known for it’s extensive fighting game catalog. Next to Data East’s GhostLop, it’s the most fitting Halloween themed Neo•Geo game. And due to it’s 2 player co-op, perfect for parties if you so happen to have an arcade setup on hand. The players’ objective is relatively simple, wipe out the stage’s assorted ghoulies by lighting them ablaze with your fireball attack. After many hits, they’ll ignite into a giant fireball capable of being rolled throughout the stage, eliminating other onscreen enemies. Power-ups and bonuses (useful when playing for score) are hidden throughout each stage. Try clearing each stage most effectively to rake in the most loot! After every four stages, a boss battle takes place before allowing you to progress to the next level. Pattern bosses to a degree, I found that it’s more important to find the boss stage’s “sweet spot”, waiting it out for the prime opportunity to strike.
Breaking the game down to it’s core elements, we have:
The Graphics – A blend of rich, predominantly 2-D hand drawn/animated sprites with a few quasi-rendered characters working there way into the mix. This style seemed to become somewhat status quo in late-era Neo•Geo titles (Ironclad and Prehistoric Era II being two perfect examples). The games visuals are colorful, yet toned to fit the theme of a graveyard based adventure. Little touches like a bat filled screen dissolve and oozing dripping text help keep the vibe consistent throughout the 25 levels of ghoulish mayhem, filled with ghosts, zombies, mummies, hunchbacked imps/leprechauns, and skeletal undead ostriches?!
The Sound – Given the theme, one would have expected a series of spooktacular tracks (Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Castlevania) to compliment the game’s eerie stages and cast, but instead, we’re both tricked & treated to a mix of wonderfully upbeat, late ’90s electronic infused funk, breakbeats and acid. Strange as it may be, it works well to maintain interest in seeing the game through to completion (if only to hear the next jam on the upcoming set of levels). The sound effects are minimal, yet serviceable to the various explosions and power-ups flying about.
The Gameplay/Difficulty – The player’s blue or red cloaked grave keeper moves fluidly, responding well to player input while hopping from ledge to ledge, and rapidly tossing fireballs at the stage’s various baddies. Even on a system as powerful as the Neo•Geo, slowdown rears it’s head in a few spots (most notably boss battles), but at the same time, can be useful because of the screen being loaded with chaos! I found what’s most rewarding and fun is attempting to clear each stage by eliminating all of your enemies in one shot. Well designed level layouts offer many new challenges towards accomplishing this goal, therein lying the heart of the game’s replayability. The bosses are a non-progressive mixed bag, with the most difficult boss battle occurring at the end of level 3 (a pair of gargoyles that both keep out of range & move far too quickly). This game may very well be a 1cc’ers nightmare (in the dark)! Slight issue of note with the overall gameplay is that often times, an item will drop near the bottom of the stage, and your grave keeper moves just a bit too slowly to reach it before it disappears. That, and your power-ups last far too briefly, being lost after taking a single hit. Power-ups and Speed-ups are virtually a tease!
For fans of fast & frantic gameplay paired with a spooky (sometimes silly) theme, you can do far worse than taking a late-night stroll through Nightmare in the Dark.
- Released: 2000
- System: Neo•Geo MVS
- Developers: Gavaking/Eleven/AM Factory
- Publisher: SNK