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Nightmare Circus (Genesis) artwork

Nightmare Circus (Genesis) review

"The worst of the worst. "

ARGGHHHH! ARGGGHHH! ARGHHHHH! says Nightmare Circus’ opening screen over the top of a bravely attempted techno backdrop that doesn’t even try to stay in beat. Staring back at you in what is no doubt supposed to be a menacing fashion is a young, dark-skinned lad with some kind of kooky Aztec bling. Except, he doesn’t look angry, nor scary; he looks smug. Like the kind of person who tiled his own bathroom and regularly takes visitors upstairs to show off his handiwork. Seriously -- just look at him.

His name is Raven, and he hates circus folk as much as he loves generic protagonist names.

Raven, then, in his never-ending quest to outlaw candyfloss and juggling, takes on the maniacal might of an evil circus that appears only in the midst of a raging storm. Rather than run crooked coconut stalls and sell watered-down cokes, these carnies are instead vicious ghouls that want to kill you. An attitude that has kept ticket sales at an all time low.

So it’s of no surprise that the game opens with the circus an abandoned ghost town. What are either unkempt patches of grass or the rotting ribcages of past victims litter the darkened fields. Here stands Raven, alone and dignified, ready to throw it down with any number of undead hooligans. The plain is his to wander without fear or remorse: the various attractions and stages loom before him like a clichéd loomy thing I’m too uninspired right now to dream up. His starting location is yours to choose.

There are four in total to pick from. They’re all going to make you regret ever taking up videogames as a hobby.

Take the ROLLERCOASTER. You start the stage on the apex of a dilapidated track while purple zombies in sagging dungarees randomly teleport around in a poof of magical grey smoke. Kill a single zombie, releasing its tortured soul upwards for Raven to devour for no effect whatsoever, and another respawns the second it falls. This could result in your effortless demise: the zombies take multiple hits to see off, aren’t afraid of ganging up on their target and come pre-equipped with bloody handguns. Unending floods of teleporting, firearm-packing brain-munchers would mean a quick trip to the game over screen if the game wasn’t so picky about only having two enemies on screen at one time.

I spent half an hour wading through these identical zombies who attacked in never-ending pairs. I leapt into passing rollercoaster cars to try and bypass the fights, but they just teleported into the carriage with me. When they were forced outside, they shot me from afar, leaving my meagre collection of kicks and jabs ineffective. Raven’s block is about as protective as any of you hiding your head with your forearm and asking people to shoot handguns at your face.

In this half an hour, I found switches that, when tripped, did nothing, and looping screens that fed me the same stages of track over and over again. I found no rhyme nor reason to the stage. So I reset and tried another.

THE MAZE has no gangsta zombies with fly firearms. It has sentient cannons and flying birthday cakes that crap on you from the safety of the top of the screen. Despite cannons traditionally being long-range, these 19th century heavy weapons just roll around on the floor, waiting for you to pummel them. This is best done by kneeling down and hitting it with a few swift crouch kicks. However! Every time you press down, you never know what could happen! Raven could:

  • Crouch down like a good boy. From here, he can deliver the same low kicks you’ve seen in every 2D brawler ever

  • Get down on all fours, like a dog. He can’t kick from here, so he’ll nod his head aggressively instead in an amusing attempt to deliver a completely ineffectual head butt

  • Lay flat on his belly, robbing him of any option of offence whatsoever

  • Turn towards the wall like he needs to take a leak, but doesn’t want the gamer to see his junk. This will move him deeper into THE MAZE. Some levels have doors built into the background -- these doors offer no clue as to which screens you can bypass as such or not. They’re just randomly there.

  • After endless wandering and battling the same foe sets over and over (with the occasional clown-faced jack-in-the-box popping up to fulfil the “every circus game needs a scary clown in it somewhere” quota), I quit the stage.

    The BIG WHEEL is nothing more than the ROLLERCOASTER level scrolling horizontally instead of vertically -- even right down to bringing back the purple zombies to plague your attempts. Just in case the dodgy jumping mechanics weren't quite enough. I reached the top of the attraction once. Nothing happened.

    The BIG TOP is basically one big room patrolled by a pair of shrunken mutants swinging kitchen knives. These can’t be killed, but you can bash away at them until they crumple to the floor. Then get back up. So you can knock them back down. Which they answer by getting back up. Long story short, these things get up from so many thrashings, they make Rocky Balboa look like 98-year-old arthritic grandmother.

    There’s so many complaints to be made -- the rehashed and baffling enemies, the shoddy hit detection, the aggravating habit Raven has of launching into a pointless attack you specifically didn’t ask for, and the overall stiffness of his offence in the first place -- and they're more than enough to bury any game. Yet, they’re not even close to Nightmare Circus‘ biggest flaw. There’s a gaping hole where the content should be. Forget that there’s no given reason to storm this hellish circus; there’s absolutely nothing to do when you get there. There’s no sense that you’re getting anywhere when there’s no end to the hordes you battle and seemingly no final destination to the levels you explore. Nightmare Circus is a test to see what runs out first: your character’s health bar or your patience after wandering around without aim, without purpose. Forever.

    Raven should stick to the DIY at home. He’s probably a monster when it comes to getting those tricky to grout tiles just right, but someone who may very well drop to his hands and knees and try to nuzzle hellspawns to death by brushing his head tenderly against them has no business fighting the occult. Especially ones as devious as these. They forget Raven and they attack YOU directly. You’ll never wipe out their ranks or bring down their circus because they eliminate the most important thing you’re looking for. Nightmare Circus lacks purpose, focus and any conceivable way to move forward. You’ve lost before you’ve even turned the console on.

    EmP's avatar
    Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 26, 2008)

    Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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    If you enjoyed this Nightmare Circus review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

    board icon
    Lewis posted September 27, 2008:

    Such anger. I love it.
    board icon
    EmP posted September 27, 2008:

    Thanks, Lewis. My anger is justified!

    All hyperbole aside, Nightmare Circus may very well be the worst game I have ever played. People should play it just to gain a deeper appreciation of every other game ever made ever.
    board icon
    darketernal posted September 27, 2008:

    Including Monster Seed?
    board icon
    Lewis posted September 27, 2008:

    This is the worst game I've ever played. I don't believe Nightmare Circus could be any worse.

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