I remember Night Creatures from first issue of Gamepro. Their review gave it average scores across the board and briefly listed its many faults. I also remember thinking they were crazy; how could this game that looked so cool be bad? At this point I should also mention I only owned a Turbo Grafx-16 at the time. If you were an unfortunate bastard like me then you know every new release back then warranted attention. It would be many years before I played it for myself and ultimately found out that yes, the press had it right. Night Creatures is just not good.
I have my issues with the game but at least its premise is sound. On a lone night you are bitten by a vampire bat, who is the Queen of Darkness Hecate in disguise. To rid yourself of her curse you must defeat Hecate before dawn. It is a bit strange that another vampire is kind enough to inform you of all this moments after it happens and set you on your quest but who am I question the reasons behind a hero’s journey?
A simple description of Night Creatures sounds like the mutant love child of Simon’s Quest and Altered Beast. Both of those games have issues however there are some good ideas buried under their shoddy execution. I wish I could say Night Creatures combines the best aspects of both in one great package but I can’t. The game is flat out terrible, the kind that made Turbo Grafx owners look at their Sega and Nintendo owning friends with envy.
Almost immediately you’ll notice the game’s faults. In the beginning you are only armed with your fists. Eventually you will find an axe, a mace, sword, spears, a crossbow and a shotgun. The hit detection is all over the place depending on the weapon as some enemies will walk through your attacks while sometimes you will clearly miss but it still registers. Even more frustrating some weapons do not work on certain enemies. Most of the bosses require specific weapons or items to defeat and the game barely informs you of this which makes it even worse.
Much like Simon’s Quest you are free to explore the entire “world” at your leisure. There is no set structure or order that you need to complete certain events. For most players descending into the cavern and receiving the bear transformation is probably last on the list yet I completed it early by accident. You are given some incredibly vague guidance by the wise woman but good luck deciphering her hints. Huh, I guess this is more like Castlevania 2 than I thought. The overall goal is to reach Hecate’s lair underground which will require the use of all your animal forms in some capacity. These abilities are gained by beating specific bosses. While they sound cool on paper in practice they are the most disappointing aspect of the game.
In total there are four animal forms: bear, wolf, owl, and badger. You can change at any time however it drains your health. But outside of the few mandatory times they are needed you will never bother. That’s because their controls and movement are horrible. The wolf’s attack is so low to the ground it misses nearly every time. The owl flies so slowly chances are you will die before reaching the one doorway it is needed for. The bear…I never even bothered with the bear form. The badger is only needed to crawl through one passage. That’s it. I can’t begin to express how let down I am with this aspect of the game, they advertise it so heavily on the box yet it matters so little.
As you might have guessed with all its prevalent flaws Night Creatures is brutally difficult and completely unfair. You will be juggled by enemies. Scream in anger at the bad enemy placement. You will hate how inadequate most of the weapons seem. Even worse, you only have one life and three continues! For all of its faults there a few elements that help. It is very easy to sit in one area and kill enemies to refill your life bar. Most bosses have a specific weapon you’ll need to kill them in one shot. The instruction manual at least guides you but at this point you can look it up in a faq. While I like epic boss battles considering the myriad number of flaws present I think the creators did you a favor on this one. Be grateful you can skip ¾ of end game boss rush this way.
The game’s nonlinear nature gives off the impression of an expansive world when in fact it is incredibly short. It has been well over a decade since I last played this yet I was still able to run through it in less than thirty minutes. And this is with barely any memory of the game. There is no set sequence to beat the game although certain bosses are unbeatable without the appropriate weapon. You can run from one corner of the world to the other in ten minutes or less and most locations are only a few screens wide. Because of its short length you don’t get to really use your powers, not that you would either way since they are so terrible.
I wish I could say Night Creatures has some redeeming qualities but then I would just be lying. Even if its most glaring flaws such as the bad hit detection were fixed it would still be a middling game. Side Scrolling action games were not in ready supply on the system but that still doesn’t mean you should settle for subpar trash, of which this clearly counts.