Title: Nightmare in the Dark
Developer: Eleven / Gavaking Co. Ltd.
Publisher: SNK
Date Published: 2000
Platforms: NeoGeo MVS

Nightmare in the Dark was one of the last games released for the NeoGeo MVS platform under SNK's stewardship. Although it first appeared in 2000, is believed to have been developed several years earlier and mothballed for some reason. (Perhaps it didn't meet SNK's standards of quality, or the original developers ran out of money before they could finish the project.)

The game is a single-screen platform game similar in many respects to Taito's Bubble Bobble. The player(s) take the role of the cryptkeepers of a remote graveyard that has been over-run by ghosts, zombies, skeletons and other paranormal creatures. Each cryptkeeper is armed with a brass lantern. By swinging the lantern they can lob small balls of flame in a short arc in front of them. If a flame hits a member of the walking dead, they catch fire and are frozen to the spot - at least until the flame goes out. If an enemy is bombarded with enough flames, they will become enveloped in a fireball. The player can pick up this giant fireball and hurl it across the screen like a bowling ball, where it will careen around for a short while flattening anything in its path, before bursting, killing the enemy inside it.

There are around a dozen types of enemy encountered in the game. The easiest to dispatch are the slow-moving zombies and skeletons, whose only means of attack is to trap the unwary cryptkeeper in a pincer movement. Ghosts are more formidable, able to float around freely and fire purple flames at the player. Later levels introduce mummies, mud-men, 'Igors' (short enough for the players' flames to pass over them), skeletal ostriches, and special zombies that can throw their limbs around as projectiles.

Each enemy that is killed drops a bonus item. Gems and treasure chests give bonus points. Different coloured potions enhance the player's abilities (increasing their movement speed, or the size or range of their flames). Joints of ham replenish their health. Accidentally picking up a skull will reduce the the player's abilities. Once all the enemies on a screen have been exorcised, it's on to the next level (or screen).

The game is split into six themed stages (graveyard, forest, cave, etc.) with five levels in each. In the final level of each stage the players face a boss. This is usually a giant monster that cannot be harmed directly by the players' flame shots. Luckily each boss can also summon forth legions of regular-sized enemies that the players can turn into fireballs and hurl at the boss.

Graphically, the game is adequate, although it doesn't approach the level of finesse shown by other NeoGeo games of the same era (for instance the Metal Slug and Last Blade series). The sprites are drawn in a distinctive, cartoon-like style with many frames of animation, although they're a bit on the small side. The backgrounds (which are completely detached from the play area in the foreground) are nicely drawn using a muted colour palette. The game's artists seem to have a penchant for using cross-hatching to compensate for the NeoGeo's lack of alpha-blending capabilites, which tends to result in making parts of the game look ragged and pixellated. The game's audio is also fairly non-descript, with a range of spooky organ tunes noodling away to a drum machine backing.

Nightmare in the Dark is enjoyable for a while, but has some serious flaws. The game is much too short and (with the exception of the ridiculously unbalanced final boss) too easy. It can be played through in about half an hour. This could be said about many arcade games, but Nightmare offers little in the way of replayability. There are no secrets to discover, no alternate routes, no competitive element. It is also quite repetitive, as there are only a few enemy types (with the same basic enemies cropping up throughout all the stages), and level design that is nowhere near as varied or interesting as Bubble Bobble's.

All in all it's pretty meagre stuff. In the unlikely event of finding a working NeoGeo cabinet in a public place with this game on it, you would probably be better off spending your coins on something else.

Some information gathered from Kazuya's NeoGeo Reviews Site (http://www.neogeoforlife.com)

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