Clowns are scary. I know this because I played Ronald McDonald’s Treasure Island Adventure a few weeks ago and I’m sure I haven’t recovered, so when Nightmare Circus popped up in my “to play” queue, I naturally ran a ****ing mile all the way to Hull. Fortunately, Hull isn’t a very interesting place, so I came back and sat down to play it. The verdict? I should have stayed in Hull.
Nightmare Circus is a 1996 Sega Mega Drive game released just before the advent of 3D gaming, so by time of release, no-one cared about games like this anymore. And it shows here. You play as Raven, a native American man trapped in…wait for it…a haunted circus. Yes. It’s that simple. He has to make through the levels and escape the nightmare…or just survive it, it’s never made clear whether you’re supposed to just stay alive for a limited time period or try to get out. And that’s the games first problem, it plonks you down on the map with a choice of 4 levels and that’s it, you’re left to die, no explanation, no question. Add to this, the enemies, which as far as I could tell were unkillable, I know this from repeatedly kicking some weird Neanderthal anorexic Einstein swordsmen repeatedly and them never dying and awarding me points (and we all know what points mean, right?). This isn’t too bad, because more often than not, you get the option to hightail the **** out of there, but sometimes you come across an enemy, and you can’t jump over it, you can’t go under it, nor can you go through it, and you’re just left to run into its attacks and hope it takes you out of your misery. Oh and sometimes the doors to the other sections won’t let you through, so you’re basically screwed.
It doesn’t help that Raven is impossible to control as well. The controls in the game are so sensitive, you have to gently tap the buttons to run or attack smoothly, which of course is easy when there’s an UNDEAD JANITOR SHOOTING AT ME! And of course, enemies don’t truly die, so it makes the bad controls even more infuriating and leaves very little time for error, effectively knocking away any form of difficulty curve and just making it more a difficulty mountain. Raven also has this super incredible roaring ability that does…well, it does very little.
The plus side is, the graphics look nice and easily convey the trippy nightmare aspect and the run down circus theme also does look pretty good, but everything else here makes it seem like a darker episode of Scooby Doo with all the things that make Scooby Doo enjoyable taken out. Some of the level ideas, such as constantly climbing a burning Ferris Wheel or running on a roller coaster track trying to avoid being hit by oncoming cars (you can’t) are good ideas, but executed horribly. In the end, it becomes a nightmare itself and I found myself blaring music really loud hoping I’d wake up. Zoinks indeed.