Product: Nightworld
Publisher: Alligata
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #68

The very first run of professional software was spearheaded by the likes of Micro Power, Superior and Alligata. Nightworld is a strange game. Very strange. Perhaps the weirdest game on the Electron ever in fact. And Alligata were not about to make it much easier to decipher with the few words on the inlay: "You are Lee Lance the explorer. Find your way through the many vaults of this cavernous underworld collecting the objects that will lead to the final escape route and the magical golden fence."

Perhaps the only way therefore to describe this game is to step through it. Firstly, as it loads, you are presented with three different loading screens - the main one done in splendid Mode 2 and picturing a towering ziggeraut on which sits a ram's head and around which fly winged harpies. Lee Lance, pictured in close-up, has his normal everyday face split in two by that of a gargoyle, giving you at least some indication that two separate characters are involved in the game itself.

Much disc-whirring later - for this is a big game! - and the main screen, and boombastic intro starts up. Now truly there are few psychadelic experiences on the little Elk but Nightworld is probably as near to being so as is possible. Crashing lightning and a blippy little tune tease you into an environment where each room is never the same colour combination twice. Freaky, yes and a touch disconcerting, Nightworld is a platform game filling a Mode 5 screen completely. At the head sits the ziggeraut, in front of which an eye on a bridge floats eerily from right to left. At the base floats the sun, from left to right; an action that seems intrinsically connected to the moment Lee Lance will mutate into his gargoylian counterpart.

The game is presumably ("Presumably" because we cannot get very far!) free-roaming, a la Jet Set Willy, and Lee is placed in a room amongst many others. There do not appear to be any items to collect and the aim of the game simply seems to be to navigate through each room one-at-a-time to reach the magical golden fence. A certain number of things prevent this from being as easy as it seems.

Firstly, each room has a foe floating in a set pattern, typically gliding in a circular motion. The foes, again feeding into the bizarre nature of the game itself, are everyting from flying bugs to what looks like a disco ball. They do not ordinarily react to your presence, but glide around, passing through platforms as easily as the air around them. Contact with them results in the computer emitting a twittering sound, the eye speeding up its cross on the bridge and all the movement possibility of your character coming to a sudden halt!

Secondly, the platforms are arranged in such a way as to impede progress. You cannot jump through platforms, only on to them and sort of 'around' them, perching oddly on their midriffs. Whilst getting out of the first room is easy, the second is more difficult - and the third room is the furthest I've progressed in twenty years! (How on earth can you get out of this room? Somebody help me!) When the planet (at the base of the screen) touches a border, you will become a gargoyle until it collides with the opposide border. When a gargoyle, you can jump further and higher - and clearly it is utilising the two characters in tandem that is key to making progress.

Thirdly, despite the impressive animation throughout - each foe and each character are several multi-coloured frames - the game plods along at a less than helpful tempo. Making an ill-judged jump can see you watching Lee fly up in the air, miss the platform he was aiming for, miss the edge of the one he was standing on, plummet slowly into the path of a foe, remain suspended in mid-air twittering until released by it, continue to fall and finally hit ground. This can leave you, as the player, with nothing to do for a good thirty seconds or so!

The Game Seems To Be Designed To Appear To Run Perpetually In Slow Motion This tempo pervades the game as a whole and actually seems to be the way the game was designed, i.e. to perpetually appear to run in slow motion! With no clear objective, and the seemingly impossible layout of the third room, this results in quite unchallenging gameplay. Moreover, the lack of clear instructions and the idyllic way all the foes glide around tends to evoke feelings of utter perplexity and inevitably frustration. Why exactly is Lee half-man half-beast? What is the purpose of the ziggeraut? Why the eye on the bridge? What exactly are you meant to be doing?!

Despite all these questions, I return to Nightworld regularly. There isn't a single game that even comes close to its absurdity, neither in its Alligata stablemates nor the offerings from other software houses. Perhaps this is exactly the point - Nightworld leaves so much for the player to discover (i.e. routes to navigate the platforms, how/when to effect a mutation, etc) that it has a feel of longevity about it. I first played it when I was nine, and I have no further answers twenty years later! If it is still bewildering me in 2028 then a longevity span of forty years ain't bad for one of the very first Electron games ever released!