Genre: Beat-‘Em-Up Developer: Funcom Publisher: Tec Toy Players: 1-2 Released: 1996
I remember way back during the waning days of the Sega Genesis’ lifespan that I was still managing to somehow get the most out of my ever-aging console. Thanks to the awesomeness that was Sega Channel (something that was way ahead of its time) I got to play a huge library of varying Genesis games month after month. Most were of the well-known variety to Genesis owners, including games like everything from the Sonic and Ecco the Dolphin franchises to other Genesis stalwarts like Eternal Champions and Altered Beast just to name a few. Now and then though, Sega Channel subscribers would get a little something extra in terms of content, mostly rare import games that we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else at the time. I remember games like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Garfield: The Lost Levels, Battle Frenzy, and Golden Axe III among others, but there was one game that I remember more so than any of the previously mentioned… a game called Nightmare Circus.
Nightmare Circus has a bit of an interesting history behind it. Developed by Funcom (which released games ranging from console ports of NBA Hangtime to the more recent MMORPG Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures) and originally set to be published by Sega in the final releasing run of titles on the Genesis, Nightmare Circus was advertised on Sega Channel as to soon be seen in stores and such… and such a day never ever occurred, at least here in America that is. It was completed, but as far as I know was only released in Brazil by a company called Tec Toy, which was responsible for the distribution of many (and perhaps all) of Sega’s consoles in Brazil and a good chunk of South America as a whole. If there was ever an American Genesis version of the game to exist here in North America, I’ve never been able to find or hear about it, so without further ado, let’s get to actually talking about the much maligned Nightmare Circus.
The game is a beat-‘em-up/side scroller, putting you in the shoes of a generic-looking Native American-ish type hero named Raven. Raven finds himself traversing the most evil circus on the planet apparently (yes, more evil than Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey could ever hope to be) as you take on various undead circus folk. That’s pretty much the whole gist of the game, and it offers nothing more and nothing less either. You can pick which level you want to start at (out of a whopping four), ranging from a rollercoaster to a maze to a big wheel to a “big top;” with the sole goal remaining the same: beat up everyone in sight. This wouldn’t be all that bad were it not for the fact that the action is incredibly monotonous and pretty flaccid to boot.
The game’s stale action elements are only hampered by the fact that Nightmare Circus possesses perhaps the most sensitive controls I think I’ve ever gotten my hands on in my whole life. Want to turn around to go the other direction? You mysteriously end up ducking instead. Want to punch an opponent? Too bad, because the ultra-shoddy hit detection pretty much negates any and all ability to actually hit someone. Yeah, Nightmare Circus is as frustrating as it gets, and guess what? There’s even more frustration to be found!
Beyond the shoddy controls and sloppy hit detection, let’s talk about the game’s previously mentioned FOUR levels of gameplay. The rollercoaster stage features constantly respawning zombie enemies that come at you packing, and the level seems to apparently have no end to it either. I’m serious, you can find switches to flip but I don’t think they do anything, because THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENING HERE ANYWHERE IN THE STAGE!!! Yes, I think we have a bit of a problem here. Then we get to the maze stage, which also seems like it’s never-ending and is so ungodly confusing that you’ll lose interest in it within the first five or ten minutes. The big wheel stage is practically a carbon copy of the rollercoaster stage, while the “Big Top” stage is pretty much a big room with a never-ending amount of enemies coming at you.
So with all of what I’ve already said in mind, you may be asking yourself if there are any saving graces to Nightmare Circus. The answer to that is pretty much no to say it lightly. The game’s graphics aren’t bad, despite the generic and never-ending supply of look-alike enemies that you take on throughout, and some of the circus backgrounds and environmental features are actually kind of creepy, plus the music score isn’t bad either. However, none of that can save this wretch of a game thanks to the just plain broken gameplay and programming. With that in mind, we should all take the time to thank Sega for wisely not releasing Nightmare Circus here in the states. I know that it’s a very rare title to track down but please, for your own good, no matter how hardcore a collector you may be, do not soil your Genesis/Mega Drive with this game, it just isn’t worth it. Save yourself, and you can thank me later.
SCORE: 2 out of 10