Monday, December 2, 2013

Give This Game a Shot: Nosferatu, Man

at 6:27 PM
Nosferatu is a pretty crazy one. As soon as it boots up and you see this:


you could be forgiven for mistaking the game for a Vic Tokai-esque Castlevania clone. I mean good lord. Same font, same castle beneath a full moon, same bat cursor? These SETA fucks really couldn't come up with anything of their own to communicate "vampire"? And is "SETA" supposed to be a fake version of "SEGA"?

Hilariously, this isn't even the first Castlevania-riff which SETA piloted. They published 8 Eyes for the NES, known as perhaps the most blatant Castle-Clone this side of Vampire: Master of Darkness. At least Master of Darkness could excuse itself in that there were no other Castlevania alternatives on Game Gear.

Also worth a chuckle is that the original 1922 filmic classic Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, is thus titled because Murnau and Co. couldn't obtain the rights to the 1897 novel. Was SETA trying to call back to that? Reawaken the spirit of unlicensed vampire ripoffs?

Thankfully, Nosferatu's Castlevanialarities cease immediately after the title screen (barring that they're both gothic horror games). As soon as you hit start you'll watch a quick (admittedly Castlevanian) cut-scene and then see your character dumped into a locked prison cell. Classic puzzle setup. So you look in the mirror, see what you saw, take the saw, use it to cut off your own head, throw your head as hard as you can at the cell door

In short order, you'll discover that the game is... a cinematic platformer! With spookiness! And brawling! And a really fucking strict time limit. I've heard this game described (in a YouTube comment...) as a mix of Prince of PersiaCastlevania, and Streets of Rage. That's a boldly over-ambitious application of all three - really it's just an action game set across short, tightly-timed mazes that encourage an arcade-style mastery of the mechanics and environments for a fluid play-through. Each stage presents a number of routes, some heavier on obstacle course platforming, others on combat, and others on 'puzzles' (namely tricky jumps, movable blocks, and pressure switches), but the time limit succinctly communicates that there isn't enough time in a single run to investigate all of these available avenues. This isn't Castlevania or some bullshit. Despite that uh, title screen there.


Luckily you've got infinite lives to experiment with these paths, so you won't have to play the entire game over and over to master the later environments (a la Sonic). Once you've conquered a boss (every three stages), the timer resets and you keep that checkpoint for good, allowing you to take your time repeatedly dying and learning each area's nuances (though continuing will cost relatively insignificant upgrades). Still, it's a long enough game that unless you're using emulator save states, you'll have to get good to beat it in one sitting. That's the classic tradeoff for infinite continues - high difficulty and no saving. Fair enough as far as I'm concerned. Unless you're ready to sit down for three straight hours of continuous respawns, you probably won't see the credits until you've spent a lot of time refining your skills and learning the levels - and enemies.

Aside from the arcade-style challenge, those enemies are what really distinguish Nosferatu from the cinematic platforming field. If you've played Prince of Persia, Abe's Oddysee, or Another World, you know the platforming mechanics at play in Nosferatu. Not to say they're bad, just that they've been done before and were, even in 1994, a bit worn. Cine-plats typically separate out their combat (Persia) or omit it completely (Abe), so it's unusual to see it integrated as thoroughly as in Nosferatu. What typically draws attention here is the player character's "Streets of Rage-esque" moveset, but as that mostly boils down to button-mashing, it's really the presentation of the combat that shines through. A wide variety of enemies are used to block your path, to guard platforms, and to provide chase, and almost all of them can be either dodged or smacked down (TM). This really breaks up the monotony, not because there is platforming, then combat, then platforming, then combat (Prince of Persia already does that), but because there is a choice between fight or flight. Each enemy gives the player a chance to evaluate risk both in terms of time and life, and a chance to decide whether they have more faith in their combat or navigational skills.

There are some cool fighting-game style boss-battles to boot
If you like cinematic platformers like Prince of Persia or semi-open-ended platforming of the Sonic, Super Mario World, and Rondo of Blood variety, definitely give Nosferatu a shot. I don't think it's going to provide much of a combat/action fix, but if you like challenging maze exploration and are looking for a unique 2D platformer, you definitely can't go wrong here.

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